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Ryan revelling in mature role

Rugby may be a team sport, but every player must fight his corner against all-comers for game time. After all, if you don't play, you are on a road to nowhere, locked into limbo.

Twenty-year-old Dominic Ryan was the one rookie to stand out for Leinster in round one of the Magners League. The hardest hitter since Sean O'Brien emerged, Ryan was revered in the Academy for his chiselled body and how he applied it in the tackle.

He is no shrinking violet, at least, not now that he has cut away the distinctive blonde locks that were not to the liking of forwards coach Jono Gibbes. The Kiwi hard man admitted to "not being too happy about forwards in my pack having highlights".

"I thought it was time to grow up," conceded Ryan. "Jono is happy about it. He used to slag me. He used to call me Dominique because he thought anybody with blonde hair was a girl. Now he is starting to call me by my proper name. I am happy with that."

He would also have been content to flash onto Jamie Heaslip's inside ball, showing blistering speed, for his first senior try last Friday, after being denied another for a forward pass.

"We get very good speed and agility conditioning with the coach, Dan Tobin, and Tom Turner in the Academy. That is probably where I get a lot of my pace from."

It still wasn't enough to make up for the loss in Glasgow: "The result was disappointing. The team didn't do it with simple knock-ons, handling errors and stuff like that. I felt I played well."

Already, the pressure is creeping onto the slim shoulders of coach Joe Schmidt. First impressions imply he will publicly handle it with good humour and dignity. But Schmidt's patience could wear thin.

"He put us out there because he believes we have the ability to do it. He wouldn't put us out there if he felt we were going to get beat," stressed Ryan.

"The fact that there were young people out there shouldn't be an excuse. We have all come from the Leinster Academy, one of the best academies in the world."

It was only a few months ago that Ryan felt the pang of despair as a talented Ireland -- the Six Nations champions -- under-performed at the U20 World Cup in Argentina.

Clearly, Ryan is keen to look forward, not back over his shoulder: "We lost our captain Rhys (Ruddock) for the game against Argentina and we had a tough time of it against England. This is a different season. You try to wipe the slate. You start again.

"I have put my head down, kept a low profile in pre-season and just put the work in. Hopefully it is paying off."

Ryan doesn't have to look too far for encouragement. Another ex-Gonzaga College backrower, Kevin McLaughlin, made his international breakthrough last season on the back of an excruciating run of injuries.

"Kev got his chance and he really availed of it. This season, with the World Cup at the end of it, there is going to be a lot of internationals away -- Shane Jennings, (Jamie) Heaslip, Sean O'Brien. It frees up a lot of opportunities for the younger guys. Hopefully, this season I will be able to stake a claim." Hopefully? Almost definitely.