Monday 21 October 2019

'I don’t think they physically dominated us' - Leinster's James Ryan insists final loss not down to brute force

11 May 2019; James Ryan of Leinster following the Heineken Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Saracens at St James' Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
11 May 2019; James Ryan of Leinster following the Heineken Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Saracens at St James' Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

At one stage during Saturday’s final, James Ryan was rendered anonymous; his jersey dragged around his face by the arch-spoiler Maro Itoje during a maul.

The English side’s supremacy at rugby’s dark arts momentarily left the outstanding Ryan in the dark.

It seemed an apt metaphor for the afternoon’s gruesome entertainment; perhaps even more so than that other moment when James Lowe was caught with his pants down.

Ryan was once more phenomenal -  22 carries for 24 metres and 20 tackles – on and off the ball, he thrived where so many of his colleagues struggled to survive.

And yet this has yet again been another red-letter day in the captivating career of this future Irish captain, one when he and his side have been ultimately undone by the brute force of an English side.

It may seem like a theme but Ryan will not be one to offer such a convenient hostage to misfortune in the months and years ahead.

“I think so,” he says when asked whether it is too simplistic to ascribe this latest Anglo-Celtic contest in merely physical terms, just like February’s defeat to England and an earlier defeat to them at U20 level.

“They were physical, just as England were. A strong set-piece and obviously Billy Vunipola makes a difference, so yeah, in terms of comparisons, two strong packs.

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“They deserved the win but we had periods in that game where we had the upper hand.

“We had a great scrum at one stage in the first-half when we got a rumble on and scored a few phases later, so I don’t think there’s much difference there.”

“I thought it was as physical as it gets, from what I’ve experienced anyway. It’s definitely test match standard.

“Some of the collisions were big, as we knew they would be, but I don’t think they physically dominated us by any kind of means.”

“We had patches where we were strong in that area, and so did they. So it was two big strong packs that I think went toe to toe, and they got the upper hand.

“Credit to them, they took their chances and they deserved it.”

Captain Johnny Sexton again rued the big moments but also the little ones, too, when a few marginal officiating calls went against his side.

Ultimately, though, his men did not do enough to eliminate the referee’s influence; both sides were extremely efficient at living on the edge; Sarries just did it better.

‘We’ll need to look at that Scott Fardy sin-binning again,” says Sexton of the second-half call which switched the momentum decisively in Saracens favour.

“The ref said we were offside but I haven’t seen it yet on the video. We probably felt it was a knock on a couple of phases before it off a kick.

“When you go down to 14 men against them, it’s very difficult. Then obviously you get a scrum and you’re trying to hold out with seven forwards as opposed to eight. Their scrum is a huge part of their game.

“Look, they won those big moments. Maybe I’ll have a different story for you when I look back on it on Monday.

“That moment just before half-time and that moment just after half-time when we didn’t capitalise on great try-scoring opportunities. They’re the small margins and they took their opportunities.”

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