Saturday 18 November 2017

'I didn't want to take a step down in terms of quality' - Dominic Ryan is aiming to make an impact

Dominic Ryan. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Dominic Ryan. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Eventually when it came to Leinster's abundance of back-row riches, something had to give. Eight internationals competing for three spots meant someone always ended up disappointed and last season Dominic Ryan decided it was time to seek a starting berth elsewhere.

His Leicester Tigers debut at Welford Road last weekend didn't go to plan, but the nature of the opening fixtures of his season - derbies against Bath and Northampton Saints - are opening his eyes to the competitive nature of the English Premiership and the week-on-week intensity the Guinness PRO14 is desperately seeking.

He almost joined the Midlands club on loan midway through last season as his frustration with a lack of opportunity at his home province came to a head, but Leinster blocked the move and he had to bide his time.

It wasn't announced until June, but after meeting Matt O'Connor in the glamorous surrounds of an English airport hotel in February, he knew where his future lay and had long committed to Leicester.

Ryan played his best rugby under O'Connor, thriving in the 2014/'15 season under the Australian's stewardship and he won his one Ireland cap against Georgia that November.

He knows any international ambitions are on hold while he resides abroad, but at 27 the need to play on a regular basis supersedes all others.

Saracens may rule the roost in English rugby right now, but the Tigers remain an ambitious force and, having gone straight into the starting XV, Ryan is determined to play a part in their attempt to get back on top.

"I knew the track record Leicester had, the tight group of boys and with Matt as coach... you look across Europe at teams who are always there or thereabouts, Leicester are always there," he says.

"I didn't want to take a step down in terms of the quality and expectation of the club, the potential.

"You can drop down to a lower league team and get forgotten about pretty quickly, but I'm still quite ambitious to win trophies and medals and this is one of the clubs to be at."

He is adapting well to his new environment, getting to know his team-mates and the local surrounds.

After two weeks in flux, he got a place of his own, Geordan Murphy helped him settle in and he's already feeling part of the squad.

The big goal of flying the Leinster nest was to get regular game-time after a frustrating couple of seasons at the RDS.

"I'm a rugby player who wants to be playing rugby every week and at the time I signed my contract, it was myself, Jamie (Heaslip) and Rhys (Ruddock) playing every week, playing all of the European games.

"Jordi (Murphy), Jenno (Shane Jennings) and Seány (O'Brien) were out injured, Josh (van der Flier) and (Dan) Leavy were only young lads in the Academy and I'd just played for Ireland, I was in the November camp and the Six Nations camp for the whole of the 2015 campaign.

"Things were on the up and at the time, you're thinking to yourself, 'I'm going to be starting every week for Leinster', and then I signed up for two years which brought me up to the end of last year.

"I suppose the reality of it is when Seán O'Brien comes back fit, Jenno and Jordi are back on their feet and Leavy and Josh come through . . . all of a sudden you get a knock that puts you out for a couple of weeks or you have one bad game . . . I remember particularly I started the first game of the season against Treviso and for whatever reason it didn't go well.

"Leavy starts the next game ahead of me and he went really well and got picked again and with eight international back-rows in the club - that's pretty much unheard of - things didn't go my way for one way or another.

"Then you're trying to fight for your place, you're under pressure playing games. You get in, play well, then you don't play for two months and then you're asked to play 80 minutes off the back of not playing for five, six weeks.

"You go alright, you go alright the next week and then you're dropped again for another two games... it's just consistency. I play my best rugby when I'm playing consistently every week, from a physical point of view but also mentally. There's small aspects of the game that you need to be mentally fit for. I needed to move away to get a run like that."

Having O'Connor back in charge helps.

"At the time, it was his trust in what I could deliver," Ryan says of the Australian. "As a rugby player, you want to feel wanted, you want to feel valued in the team versus 'we've two injuries, we'll throw you on the bench' or 'X or Y has a niggle, you're going to fill in'.

"Being the filler-in player isn't what you want to be, you want to be feeling valued and feeling wanted and Matty instilled that in me in the 2014/'15 season with Leinster and it really pushed me on."

After the loss to Bath, tomorrow's derby against Northampton has taken on an extra edge and Ryan is quickly learning that league fixtures mean a lot more on this side of the Irish Sea.

"Each game seems to be a huge occasion where in the PRO14 a couple of the games in the season aren't that big," he says. "So, it's probably the intensity and importance of each game, the competitiveness is probably a lot harder over here.

"Talking to some of the lads, if you ask them what they'd prefer to win, Europe or the Premiership, they'd be undecided, whereas if you asked that question in the Leinster changing room it'd be unanimous; every single player would prefer to win in Europe."

Irish Independent

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