Wednesday 22 August 2018

'It was great watching them beat, well hammer, England in Twickenham'

Donnacha Ryan enjoyed watching Ireland hammer England
Donnacha Ryan enjoyed watching Ireland hammer England
Racing's Donnacha Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Donnacha Ryan chuckles at the memory of watching Ireland win the Grand Slam. The image portrayed by a Racing 92 tweet tells just part of the story. Sitting on a chair on the U Arena surface, he appears to be a man alone, gazing up at the giant screen while still wearing his match-day kit.

There was a mournful look to it, a man contemplating his decisions and yet Ryan recalls a different, more joyous scene.

"It was funny," he explained on a conference call with Irish journalists last night. "The background to the story was that I was on the bench that weekend, I just came on at half-time, Racing had a really good idea to keep everyone in the stadium and, luckily enough, I was needed by the dope-testers, waiting to be drug-tested.

"I was mad to watch the match so why not watch it on the pitch with the crowd? It was great watching them beat, well hammer, England in Twickenham.

"I said to the lads during the week they were going to hammer them, Ireland were just so well-drilled, they always are in the last couple of years, always seem to get better... it was great.

"You'd always love to be playing for Ireland, as a supporter, knowing all the lads, I was delighted to see them win a Grand Slam. I texted a load of the players coaching staff wishing them well. It was definitely massive achievement."

For Ryan, there are no regrets. He knew that in signing for Racing he was leaving his life as an Ireland international behind but, after a lifetime at home, he wanted to taste something different before he retired.

"I suppose I made a lot of sacrifices in life to be able to play for Ireland, play for Munster as long as I had," he said. "Having moved over here, Munster are so well respected. It was a personal decision and I'm really enjoying it.

"Rugby is only one part of my life, I wanted to explore the avenues outside it as well. You'd love to play for Ireland forever but it has to end sometime. It's good to come here and have a different perspective."

That end brought a new beginning but, almost inevitably, the Champions Cup has allowed him to keep close ties.

He missed the first pool game between Racing and Munster at Thomond, but made up for it with a big performance and a pivotal play in the return leg in Paris.

Now, round three will shape both sides' seasons as they make their way to Bordeaux on Sunday with a final place in Bilbao at stake.

"It was very strange," he said of facing Munster.

"It was kind of very interesting, knowing how hard they work and back each other up from the opposite side. You see them in action, see how hard they hit, they probably just cemented my thoughts that they are top class and hard-working.

Aware

"We have played twice already earlier on this season, we're quite aware of what the big threat Munster have."

As well as the bitterly cold winter, Ryan has been acclimatising to a change of pace in Paris where, unlike Limerick, rugby has to fight its corner for attention and even on big weeks like this barely features on the news bulletins.

It has made for a very different build-up.

"Outside the training centre, I wouldn't have any interaction with rugby at all," he explained. "I listen to the radio, they don't really mention rugby that much. It's good to be able to chill out, work is work, be able to enjoy a personal life.

"That's probably me switching off has been good, it's great place to be. It's a different approach. I'm 34 and I want to make the most of the rugby, I want to enjoy the experience. I'm just enjoying it and, looking back, I probably didn't do that enough before."

Irish Independent

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