Sunday 9 December 2018

'He brings a little bit of an Irish attitude into rucks and mauls' - All Black's high praise for Donnacha Ryan

Donnacha Ryan
Donnacha Ryan
Donnacha Ryan of Racing 92
Joe Rokocoko (pictured) has played with and against more than his fair share of stellar names in world rugby down through the years, and it appears Donnacha Ryan has already made his presence felt. Photo: Getty
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Hearing the All Blacks' joint second highest try scorer not only heap praise on a man from Nenagh, but going as far to suggest that Racing's galacticos could learn a thing or two from him, is one of those moments when you just have to accept that life often works in mysterious ways.

Joe Rokocoko has played with and against more than his fair share of stellar names in world rugby down through the years, and it appears Donnacha Ryan has already made his presence felt.

In terms of seeing the impact that Ryan has had on the pitch since arriving in Paris, you wouldn't have to look much further than his outstanding performance in the win over Munster at the U Arena.

As for what Ryan has brought off the pitch, Rokocoko - scorer of 46 tries for New Zealand - offered a fascinating insight.

"He's massive, he always seems to be having a little meeting, he loves his rugby too much," the Racing winger said of Ryan.

"He's awesome for the group. The amount of experience he brings to the boys. He has enormous respect from the boys, because what he says, he does on the field.

"I think a perfect example was when we played against Munster. We were shown a video clip of how we should have attacked, and how our attitude should be against Munster in the last pool game here at the U Arena.

"It was in the 78th minute, and there was a restart from us, and we see this lock sprinting for the ball and passing our wingers. It was the 78th minute and this was a guy who had gas, attitude and he got the ball back.

"At the end of the video, our whole thing was that we have got to have same attitude as what Donnacha brings to the game.

"He sets a great example with actions and he brings a lot to the lineout as well. He demands a lot from us and so much from the young guys with attitude and making sure that they are peaking for each game.

"He brings a little bit of an Irish attitude into rucks and mauls to make sure everyone is digging in."

For all the glitz and glamour that Racing bring to the party, Ryan has helped add a steely determination to the pack.

The French side are back in their second Champions Cup final after they were beaten by Saracens two years ago, and while the bookies continue to offer a 10-point spread in Leinster's favour, Rokocoko isn't surprised that people are still underestimating his side.

"It's normal for us, I understand why, we have been underdogs before, and pretty much scraped through each game," he admitted.

"Leinster won however many games in a row, we barely came out of our pool. We scraped through to be one of best losers. We did well to come through Clermont, and again, most guys didn't expect us to win against Munster.

"We like that role, because we've been under the radar since the beginning of season. The confidence in the team is growing."

That shift in mentality has also been helped by Racing winning the Top 14 two years ago. Having been back in the winner's enclosure domestically, their next aim is to conquer Europe.

"Throughout that year we made it through to the final, it was almost like this feeling that we were happy just making the final," Rokocoko maintained.

"It was like a feeling of surprise that we went right through. I think this time, it just feels a tad different. We know that we are a way better team than we were before. We assumed that it would be like the previous years, we would get through our pool and make the play-offs.

"We got too complacent as a team. This season we knew we wanted to save some embarrassment for us. For us, it was about regaining respect for this jersey we play for. We wanted to give ourselves a chance to compete."

Saturday's final in Bilbao will also see Rokocoko go up against his former Blues team-mate Isa Nacewa.

"I played with Isa, his nickname for us was Mr Fixit because any injury that might come in the back line, Isa was like he had been playing in the position since day one," he added.

"He is an intelligent player. Obviously he had a bit of a rest and it was almost like he rebooted himself.

"It shows how much the club (Leinster) means to him. You think you've retired, and he is coaching with the Blues, and next thing your former club gives you a little SOS call that they need you.

"It shows the character of the person. The club means so much to him, which is why he is so highly respected, even from players on the outside. He will have a big part to play this week."

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