Friday 19 October 2018

'He's a fantastic guy, a Munster guy, a world-class player' - Huge respect for Donnacha Ryan from former team-mates

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony congratulates his former team-mate Donnacha Ryan after Racing’s victory in Paris. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony congratulates his former team-mate Donnacha Ryan after Racing’s victory in Paris. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

When the game was in the balance and Racing 92 needed a play, it was Donnacha Ryan who hurled himself into the air and made damn sure that no one else was going to collect Remi Tales' kick-off.

Conor Murray had just given Munster the advantage in a see-saw game at the U Arena and Munster were in reach of the quarter-finals when one of their own made the definitive play.

The Nenagh man grew on the doorstep of what was the home of indoor athletics in Ireland, but there is nothing on our island quite like the elaborate, space-age stadium that Racing have spent €360m developing in the business district outside Paris.

They have ploughed money into their team as well, winning the 2016 Top 14 and reaching the Champions Cup final, yet there was a sense behind the scenes that they were missing a hard edge. Ryan certainly brings that.

Surrounded by mammoth ball-carriers, he can focus on the things he does best: contributing in the tight and affecting the game.

He isn't the most glamorous signing Racing have made by any means, but if the stars are to shine they need men like Ryan doing the hard work inside.

Injured for the first four months of the season, the Tipperary man is now delivering for his new club and his impact was felt by those he has held dear for the majority of his career.

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"Especially on the kick-off when he got that ball," flanker Yannick Nyanga said when asked about Ryan's impact. "He brings a lot of experience to us, because we have a lot of talent in the team but not a lot of experience, we are learning.

"When you have a player like Donnacha, he's a huge addition to the team and if he wasn't here I don't know if we would have won the game.

"We're happy to have him in our side and not theirs. His French is getting better, it's not perfect yet but it's getting better.

"He talks a lot and he acts a lot. His actions speak louder than his words and you want to follow him."

With Ryan in their dressing-room, Racing had a strong insight into the Munster game-plan and Nyanga felt his influence was crucial.

"He knew exactly the way they think, you know that Munster have the same game-plan for a long time, but the execution is perfect," he said.

We knew what they were going to do, but if it's done very well it is hard to beat. It's maybe 10pc, but because of that I think we won today."

After the game, Ryan swapped jerseys with Keith Earls but kept a low profile, preferring a visit to the Munster dressing-room to a round of interviews.

While his old mates were happy to see him, they were fully aware of the impact he'd had on the game.

"It was good to have him in there," CJ Stander said.

"Look, he's a tough man. He knows exactly what we do so he made it a bit difficult for us. I think he played a great game.

"I think that kick-off he caught at the end of the game was exceptional. It just shows what a tough player he is.

"It was good to see afterwards in the changing room and have a chat with him, and see how life is here for him.

"It looks like he was certainly enjoying it."

Johann van Graan never got a chance to work with Ryan who swapped Munster for Paris last summer, but the South African was impressed by the 34-year-old on and off the pitch.

"He and I just had a chat inside after in the cloakroom," he said.

"He's a fantastic guy, a Munster guy, a world-class player. If you just looked at the hype around him all week, we knew that he's a big-moment player and that last one there on the touchline, that was a pretty big moment for a look to chase that after 75 minutes, pretty special.

"I think that's the beauty of rugby, you could see the respect all the players have for him when he got into the changing room. I think it's mutual respect, some of their coaches also came in and that's why I'm in rugby.

"For a massive battle outside, and we would love to get that four or five points but we didn't win that last five minutes, but at the end of the day it's a game and we love to be part of it."

Ryan did speak to a couple of broadcasters after the game and said he enjoyed the "weird" experience of facing his old team.

"It was really weird to play against the boys," he said.

You kind of get to understand what some of the guys do on the other side of the ruck anyway, a few things that I wouldn't have known before. I'm sure no TV cameras will pick it up, only joking, but it was good craic."

Next season, Ryan will have Simon Zebo for company and the full-back was excellent on his future home ground - a place made for his attacking style.

Nyanga is looking forward to the arrival of another Ireland international in Paris.

"Simon speaks a bit of French, I know him from some parties! It will be easier for him," he said.

"When you see the game he played today, he's an exciting player to have in your side. We look forward to having him."

Irish Independent

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