Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ryan ready to renew rivalry with 'complete lock' Itoje

Leinster's James Ryan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's James Ryan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

If the Lions were picking a Test team to go out and play in the morning, Maro Itoje and James Ryan would be the starting second-rows.

The two locks could dominate the position for a decade after captaining their countries at U-20s.

They are different players, with the England start an enforcer of note who offers a breakdown threat, and the Ireland tyro a physical menace with lineout acumen who regularly tops the stats when it comes to carrying and tackling.

As the junior of the two, Ryan (22) watched Itoje (24) burst out of the ranks and take the senior game by storm. Then, he followed suit.

They have faced off three times; Ryan enjoyed victory in the first two, before Itoje was part of a very physical England effort when their paths crossed a third time.

Ryan has taken on all the big guns during his short but impressive senior career and he admits that watching Itoje blaze a trail straight out of the junior ranks was inspiring.

"It was very impressive. I remember watching his meteoric rise a few years ago. It was admirable," Ryan said. "You can see why. He is such a good player. He is a complete second-row in many respects in the fact he is so good over the ball.

"He is one of Saracens' go-to players. They look to him for generating energy and momentum."

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"Gone are the days of second-rows just being set-piece players.

"Obviously, you've got to be able to do that, first and foremost, but second-rows need to have a variety of skills and you need to be ball-players, be comfortable on the ball.

"Itoje, he's very good over the ball. It's probably not something I'm very good at. I'm slightly taller than him and my first instinct would be to barge rather than poach.

"There's one example where I would look at something he's very good at, but it doesn't automatically mean I am going to do that."

Ryan is a student of the game and turns to the statistics to measure his own progress.

He regularly tops the charts and is the second-highest carrier and the third-highest tackler going into the final, so it is no surprise he finds solace in the numbers.

"It is definitely something I'd look at, the more involvements you can have in a game the more influence you can have," he said.

"I'm looking at how many tackles, positive carries, effective clear-outs I make. If you're hitting high numbers across those areas you're probably having a decent day."

As a world-leader in his position, he is attracting attention but as he says himself: "I wouldn't say I'm uncomfortable with it."

He'd happily soak up the acclaim if he can hit the heights and get the better of Itoje once again in Newcastle.

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