Friday 18 January 2019

The rise of James Ryan - 'His rugby mindset is the best I've experienced. It is all about rugby'

12 May 2018; James Ryan of Leinster celebrates after the European Rugby Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
12 May 2018; James Ryan of Leinster celebrates after the European Rugby Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Des Berry

They say a player’s mindset is based around winning every weekend.

The ideal is to have a mindset built around winning every day and, then, the weekend takes care of itself.

That is what you get when you get to James Ryan.

UCD head coach Andy Skehan knows what gets the Ireland second row’s engine going and what keeps it going.

The 22-year-old has cited Skehan as one of the biggest influences on his career.  

"The rugby mindset for him is the best rugby mindset I’ve experienced," said Skehan.

"It is complete focus on actual jobs that matter, every day at training.

"If you do that every day that translates onto the pitch on match day. 

"It is all about the rugby. It is all about being the best player he can be.”

On a basic level, this is reflected in his super-human statistics through the calender year.

For instance, the double-double of ten or more carries and tackles goes some way towards measuring work rate and overall impact.

From 18 big matches, including all internationals, all Champions Cup and PRO14 League play-offs and the first four rounds of the European Cup this season, Ryan has worked up 15 double-doubles.

He missed out on two more when making just nine carries to go with his 12 tackles in the Champions Cup final and making just nine tackles to go with his 14 carries against Wasps in the first round on Europe this season.     

The staggering consistency of his effectiveness reached a year-high of 17 carries and 20 tackles against New Zealand last month.   

"He is a smart decision-maker because his rugby IQ is incredibly high," said Skehan

This brought to mind Jamie Heaslip’s strengths as a player before premature retirement.

The Kildare man was one of those who benefitted from getting away from the game when he wasn’t at work.

"James is the opposite of that. He watches all kinds of rugby, all the time," said Skehan.

"He has been watching Super Rugby religiously since he was 12.

"He has a huge amount of time spent watching, thinking about what people are doing or what they should be doing. 

"That’s why he is in position to do so much, I think."

There has been a sense of inevitability about Ryan’s rise to become an Ireland international.

No one could have forecast how essential he has become to Joe Schmidt’s plans for Japan. The aura of leadership that pours out of Ryan is more about what he does than what he says.  

"It is what people talk about when they talk about a leader," Skehan stated.

"He is always going to be the best in his position, take the most responsibility, in terms of jobs."

For example, Ryan mirrors Paul O’Connell in locking down as Ireland’s tight-head scrummager in a role normally reserved for the heavier man.  

"He just does things that gets others to rally around and go, 'well, I’m with that guy.'

"He places value on being the best at his job all of the time and putting himself in positions where he has most responsibility," added Skehan.

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