Big season in Europe coming up for in-form tighthead
Cork prop John Ryan happy to pack down on the right side and focused on making the No 3 shirt his own
When Munster clash with Racing 92 in the Champions Cup this season, John Ryan will come face to face with tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna.
The fearsome Kiwi weighs around 145kg and will look to disrupt the Munster scrum that has become so efficient this season,
Meanwhile Munster's tighthead will have the unenviable task of holding up his end of the bargain. In comparison Ryan (28) is just 118kg, having battled Ulcerative Colitis - an illness that causes rapid weight loss - in the past. But he knows brains rule brawn, even in the game of rugby.
For the majority of pre-season the Munster pack were subjected to hours upon hours of gruesome scrum-conditioning and the rewards are clear to see from Rounds 1 and 2 of the Pro12. Munster have won 11 of their 15 scrums and won one scrum against the head in the game against Cardiff Blues last weekend.
Ryan has been the focal point and played all but 11 minutes of the first two games. The Cork man gave a particularly notable performance in the 23-13 victory over Scarlets where he overshadowed the Llanelli outfit's marquee tighthead recruit; Springbok Werner Kruger.
But even bigger challenges await. And after a number of seasons where he tried to bed down a position in the Munster starting 15, the No 3 jersey now looks like home.
"It will be exciting in the Champions Cup. I am aiming for that but I have to worry about these games first. I have that on the horizon then. I have played against Leicester last year but never against Racing and a lot of it is new to me.
"I wouldn't be striving to get to Tameifuna's size. I am happy with what I have. It's not all about size, it's about technique too.
"When you are starting out you need that extra bit of weight to help you out in those scrums. But the technique, that's something we really worked on, getting our shape and technique down and that will be tested in the Champions Cup," said Ryan.
Internationally, Ryan could not have picked a better time to come to prominence with Munster. Leinster's Mike Ross is nearing the end of his career, and the Irish tighthead position is up for grabs.
There is plenty of competition to take that pivotal spot in the green jersey but Ryan, who has played 75 times for Munster and scored two tries, is intent on locking down the red equivalent first.
"There are a few guys putting their hands up for Ireland. It is competitive and they are looking around. But I won't get ahead of myself and I'm not concentrating too much on the international side of things.
"I haven't had a chance to really focus on progressing beyond Munster before this because I could never nail a number onto my back. My main focus is tighthead and that's the way I want to stay.
"There is going to be a lot of competition this year with Stephen Archer, John Andress and Brian Scott. So I want to be concentrating closer to home rather than worrying about anything else."
Ryan studies part-time for a Masters in Strength and Conditioning. He lives in Dooradoyle with his girlfriend Zita and is looking forward to moving even closer to the new Munster training centre sooner rather than later.
"It's some set-up. Everyone's together and in the one building, rather than going from the gym in UL to some of the lecture halls in the campus. You would normally be walking all over the place but it's great to have everything in the one place now."
With Munster now based in their state of the art High Performance training centre, it gives the team more of a fixed base to work from. It also means new director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber have more time to work with the player. And Ryan says Nienaber is using that to full effect.
"Jacques is excellent. We have got a whole day dedicated to defence now on its own. We weren't able to do that before because we only had two field sessions in the whole week. We had to do attack, defence, attack, defence.
"Now we can do one day for each and then there is another day with a mix of both of them. We are trying to cut down the concession of tries and turn defence into attack.
"He has a big voice. A lot of lads really rate him, he is a funny guy, is really approachable and he is always available for one-on-one analysis as well."
It is promising times for Ryan who once feared for his career when his Ulcerative Colitis kicked into overdrive nearly two years ago. But he has that under control now. And if he stays healthy the chances are he will go on to bigger and better things this season.
"I was probably a loosehead playing tighthead when I was called in first. Then weight came on and I played tighthead the next year. But then I lost 8kg. Around that time James Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne got injured. I was 108kg and I was called upon to play. The boys were out so I ended up playing quite a bit.
"I am back at tighthead now and I have been healthy since around December 2014. That was the last time I had trouble with that. It has been gradual but over time I have got back up to the weight I was before the illness.
"I have the right balance of medicine. It's an illness where you can't jump right into the heavy stuff, you have to go through trial and error with the medicine.
"Eventually you find the right mix. Fingers crossed I won't have any more issues because we think we have it under control."
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