Saturday 10 December 2016

'Leinster Leo' right man at right time - Ryan

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30

Coach Leo Cullen
Coach Leo Cullen
Leinster coach Leo Cullen talks to his players during squad training ahead of next week’s Pro12 kick-off

It is quite a moment leading any team out. But when you are asked to lead out Leinster, it's one for the scrap book and a story for the grand kids. And so it was for Dominic Ryan last Friday in the Kingspan Stadium.

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A great way to start the season for the Lansdowne man.

"I was honoured to be asked. When you look around the dressing-room and see the quality and the experience of lads like Ben Te'o, Noel Reid and Jamie Hagan, you take that responsibility seriously and you want to do it justice," Ryan says.

The captain usually leads the team out - and gets a photo for the mantelpiece. Not so in this case. Instead, Tom Denton led the team out. A symbolic gesture?

"No! Unfortunately not! I was all good to go. I walked out of the dressing-room with the lads behind me and all the subs were clapping us on our backs and wishing us well but I knew something wasn't quite right," Ryan explains.

We've all seen it before. A proud captain calm and focused roared on by those around him. But Ryan wasn't playing along.

Shoulder-pads

"As I was walking, the jersey felt wrong. I couldn't figure out what was up, whether it was the new kit or what. Then I started hitting my shoulders getting ready for contact as I would ahead of any game and it dawned on me: I had left my shoulder-pads in the dressing room!

"It all happened very quickly but I went from complete focus and raring to go to a few expletives and confusion as to what should happen. But I ran back and left it to Tom to lead the lads out."

Apart from that mishap, the evening went well for Ryan and for Leinster. The plan was to get a good 40 minute run-out per player and after 80 minutes they had four tries and a win to their credit. All the while getting miles into the legs.

"Personally I didn't preform to the standard I expect from myself but the game served a purpose definitely," says Ryan.

"We all knew we had 40 minutes so you go at it, no holding back. I suppose it was nice to score four but we let in three so there are areas to work on for (tonight's)game against Moseley.

"The big disappointment was the injury to Ed Byrne. He's a very popular member of our squad and everyone wishes him well with his rehab but that left a dark cloud afterwards."

Last season was full of peaks and troughs for Ryan. A career-best 23 games for Leinster resulted in a first Irish cap during the autumn internationals - "the stuff of dreams, huge pride" - but then the bitter disappointment of a Champions Cup exit at the semi-final stage and the failure to reach the Pro12 play-offs.

"It was a good year for me in ways but I still could have done better and this year I will look to kick on from those 23 games," says Ryan.

"I think what we lacked last year was consistency in the Pro12. We had eight losses and three draws. That isn't good enough. Eight of the 11 teams took points off us which is nuts when you think about it because we are ambitious.

"We want to put ourselves into knockout rugby every year. End of. So that level of consistency has to improve and we will demand higher standards of each other this season."

One major change for the season ahead is a new man at the top. Ryan is effusive in his praise for his former team-mate Leo Cullen.

"It's brilliant. I remember coming in as a young lad to Leinster and Leo, then as captain, would go out of his way to make sure you felt part of the group, that you belonged," he says.

"That's important coming in because you do doubt yourself but he went out of his way to put you at ease. He always made time for other lads."

Ryan remembers December 2010. Leinster were at Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup. Ryan was on the bench.

"Jamie (Heaslip) went off injured at the start of the second half and I was called in to run at No 8. But I hadn't prepped for No 8 at all midweek so I was clueless. I had to get through a whole half of scrums and line outs in particular without really knowing my role," he recalls.

"So Leo, as well as leading the lineout and calling it, had the additional hassle of me asking him before every lineout what my role was and what I had to do. And every time he gave me the instructions without even questioning.

"We lost 20-13 but did secure a valuable losing bonus point which was huge.

"It was only afterwards that we had a chat in the dressing-room and he was sound about it, but he did remark that I might want to prep for No 8 the next time I was on the bench! I learned my lesson!"

A lot of the talk has been about the timing of the announcement, and that the job might be coming too early for Cullen, but Ryan believes that he is the right man. A Leinster man.

"I think it's the right time for us to go for a home-grown coach and even a home grown coaching team," he says.

Focus

"We have had success under Matt (O'Connor) with the Pro 12 title and Joe (Schmidt) and Michael (Cheika) before that, but with the young lads coming through, it's time to really focus on what it takes to get this club to that consistency again.

"Leo was there when Leinster were at the bottom of the barrel and he saw us rise through the ranks to win three Heinekens. I think he's the right man to lead us forward."

Ryan is excited by the upcoming season and the prospect of the weeks and months ahead.

"For me it is all about playing well for Leinster and who knows after that," he says. "The great thing with Leo - and we have already seen this during the pre-season - is that he is very open, very transparent, the door is always open.

"So getting that input from him about kicking on and performances shouldn't be an issue. Whether you like what he has to say is a moot point, but the honesty and the openness is a huge plus.

"As a group - with him and Fogs, Girv and Kurt - we can't wait for Edinburgh next week and getting stuck in."

Irish Independent

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