Tony Ward: Why Ryan should lead the Ireland line in Japan
Despite being France-bound, Munster lock is ideal man to show the way for young blood on summer tour, writes Tony Ward
While the Pool draw for the 2019 World Cup could scarcely have been any kinder, it is also unfortunately a double-edged sword.
Finishing top of the group is eminently achievable - and that is a must or else it's New Zealand in the last eight.
Top Pool A and it's 'only' the Springboks in the quarter-finals.
South African rugby is going through a difficult time what with colour quotas and players being enticed overseas, but you can bet your bottom rand that come Japan in a little over two years' time they will be back in the mix for a third Webb Ellis success.
Even watching the Kings (Eastern Province) against the Sharks (Natal) at the weekend smacked of a domestic game on the rise.
Last week's draw adds another element to the June and November Test windows.
With the host nation in our Pool it injects an element of intrigue to the upcoming test series in Japan. And so too in November when South Africa come to the Aviva in the autumn for the Guinness series.
For Joe Schmidt next month's tour, with the squad set to be announced today, is every bit as important - in a very different way - as the trek to Chicago back in November.
Yes we will be short at least 11 Irish Lions set to be on duty in New Zealand, but it was the same back in 2005 when Niall O'Donovan led an emerging Ireland squad to Japan while 12 Irish players made the Lions tour to New Zealand, with Eddie O'Sullivan part of Clive Woodward's coaching army.
As was the case in 2005, when Brian O'Driscoll was skippering the Lions, we are again without our captain for the summer tour, with Rory Best bound for New Zealand, but critically the head coach has made the sensible decision to remain with Ireland and nurture a developing squad at close to mid point between world cups.
It makes for a heaven-sent opportunity for Schmidt to work with the emerging talent, up close and personal on a daily basis.
Given the loss of what is effectively the first team against a Japanese squad set to be close to full strength and looking to generate increased interest in the sport ahead of their ground breaking World Cup, it is imperative that Schmidt puts together a mix of experience and potential.
If there is any doubt over Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip then both should be given the summer to rehabilitate.
Other longer-term casualties like Jordi Murphy, Ultan Dillane, Stuart Olding and Tommy Bowe will clearly be doing the same.
I would have no hesitation whatsoever in including Donnacha Ryan, despite his imminent move to Racing 92.
Indeed, I can't think of anyone better equipped to captain the tour.
And despite his injury hit end to the season I would also like to see Sean Cronin included. There is no better hooker in open play - and I include all three New Zealand-bound Lions in that.
Winning is important, Ireland - more than most teams - must operate in the here and now. So it's vital to include whatever experience is available, yet given the presence of Ronan O'Gara, Girvan Dempsey and Felix Jones as rookie coaches alongside the main man, this trip represents a great opportunity to bring along the best emerging talent.
It is a difficult balancing act but assuming a squad of 32, there ought be enough room for experiment.
Even if they fail to make the match-day 23 against the USA or Japan, just being involved on tour is a wonderful experience in itself.
Jordan Larmour is one emerging talent I would have loved to see included but injury rules him out.
James Ryan is just back from a long-term absence but along with the likes of Ross Molony and Kieran Treadwell, there are plenty of promising second-rows looking to put their hand up.
Further forward again we have props in abundance but what might a tour of this nature do for the development of Andrew Porter, as he completes the switch from loosehead to tighthead?
Ryan and Porter - along with 2016 World Rugby U-20 Player of the Year Max Deegan - are among the most exciting forwards to come through the U-20 system in recent times.
And for sure, if you're good enough, you're old enough.
It is much easier I know to bring emerging players into an extended squad at Carton House but here is a senior tour that would benefit two cast-iron future internationals in the most productive way.
Indeed here are some more players yet to turn 26 who are pushing for a place on the plane next month: Andrew Conway, Jack O'Donoghue, Darren Sweetnam, Rory and Niall Scannell, Joey Carbery, Jacob Stockdale, Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath, Angus Lloyd, Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Molony, Josh van der Flier, Sean O'Brien (Connacht), Adam Byrne and Rory O'Loughlin.
Conway, Scannell, Carbery, Marmion, McGrath, Conan, Leavy and van der Flier are certainly competing for a place in the starting line-up.
And I'd take O'Donoghue, Stockdale, Byrne, Ryan and Porter along for the experience.
All eyes will of course be on New Zealand but for Ireland, for Schmidt and for this younger cohort of players we could at last have an end of season tour with meaning.