Sunday 4 December 2016

Playing it loose keeps prop ahead of chasing rivals in red

Cork No 1 ready for another long battle to emerge as first-choice Munster scrummager

Daragh Small

Published 11/09/2015 | 02:30

John Ryan knows he's facing a battle for game-time in the Munster front row SPORTSFILE
John Ryan knows he's facing a battle for game-time in the Munster front row SPORTSFILE

His boss recently remarked that he was the find of last season, but John Ryan still feels he has a major point to prove this time around.

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At 27, the former Cork Con clubman is relatively young in his position, and an added dash of versatility means that he can pack down on either side of the scrum when needed.

Much of last season was spent at his favourite loosehead position, as he kept his troublesome Ulcerative Colitis condition at bay, since it last reared its head in January.

That illness continues to disrupt his career, but Ryan won't be defined by it and notched up 20 appearances, as well as a try against Ospreys, for Munster in the 2014-15 season.

However, he missed out on a place in the match-day 23 for the 31-13 Pro12 final defeat to Glasgow at the end of May.

Despite the brilliant season that had proceeded it, there was no place for Ryan and, instead, Dave Kilcoyne started in the No 1 slot, with James Cronin amongst the replacements.

And that gave him plenty to ponder over the quiet summer months. It was a personal setback, but it only fuelled the burning ambition within the former Christian Brothers student.

He put his head down and focused, the results speak for themselves and he's now in prime condition to battle it out for that coveted Munster No 1 jersey.

And as for his coach Anthony Foley's praise, Ryan isn't fazed.

"I have been knocking around since 2011, so to be developing every year and to hear that from your coach is a good thing.

"It's great as long as I can keep moving up, I would be delighted if I can build on last season again. I got 20 games compared to about 15 the year before.

"I had upped my game again from the year before that, too. So, while I keep increasing the number of matches, I will be very happy.

"I was pleased with how last season went, but being left out for the final was a tough one. This year, hopefully, I will be left in for the big games.

"That is the plan, that I can get more gametime and especially in the European games."

With Kilcoyne not included in Joe Schmidt's 31-man World Cup squad, Munster have huge depth and quality, once again at loosehead.

Return

James Cronin's return from injury at the end of last season means he will also be at their disposal.

Therefore, Ryan will have another massive battle on his hands to reach this season's targets and make more of an impression. But the possibility of Cronin swapping over to tighthead could make it that bit easier.

"They are probably going to move players around and see how they develop, but it won't be happening overnight. I have played tighthead in the past. I played loosehead most of my underage career, but I came in initially as a tighthead.

"Then I played a lot on the opposite side just to get my strength up and then switched over to tighthead under Rob Penney again. The only reason I came back across was because of injuries to Kilcoyne and Cronin last year.

"I played a lot of loosehead then last year - I only played one game at tighthead. So it seems I am going to be sticking around here for a while. It went well there last year so maybe I will be focusing on it."

Ryan is on the verge of his 50th appearance for the province, but knows it will be difficult to get a run of games to build on that tally this term.

"Unfortunately, Kilcoyne didn't make the World Cup squad, so it is him, Cronin and myself covering loosehead at the moment.

"Hopefully, I can get as much gametime as I can now, and prove a point. Try and muscle those fellas out of it.

"But Kilcoyne and Cronin are both internationals, so they are top quality. It won't be easy, and that is the nature of the game," he said.

But the ongoing battle with his health will also continue into this season and for the rest of his life. Ryan seems to have steadied the ship in that regard.

When the illness was at its most progressive last term he weighed 108kg, but a tough pre-season has brought massive benefits.

The Cork native is now back to 114kg and still has the fitness to back up the extra-bulk and add explosiveness to his game.

"The extra bit of weight will help at scrum-time as well. There were a few games when I came back last year where I was up against the likes of Adam Jones or Wiehahn Herbst from Ulster. They are two heavy guys and they are good scrummagers, and to have that extra stone will stand to me this season.

"I had lost a good bit of weight last year and I never gained it back. My big objective in pre-season was putting on that weight and getting the muscle mass up.

"I just wanted to put on the extra few kilos. I only put on one kilo of weight and my BMI (body mass index) might have got way better which meant I put on a lot more muscle too.

"That was down to diet and gym-work. Some weeks we were doing six gym sessions and myself and Jack O'Donoghue would do one extra in the morning.

"That was just to get the extra hit in for muscle mass more than anything.

"So, the gym work definitely came in useful. Hopefully it pays off."

Irish Independent

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