Tuesday 22 October 2019

'He is one of the top two players in the country' - How James Ryan became a future Ireland captain

James Ryan of Ireland wins possession in the lineout ahead of Scott Cummings of Scotland during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
James Ryan of Ireland wins possession in the lineout ahead of Scott Cummings of Scotland during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tony Considine

Leinster’s Fergus McFadden has reiterated his belief that teammate James Ryan should lead the Lions on the 2021 tour to South Africa.

The 23-year-old has already won every domestic honour in the game with the European Champions Cup and PRO14 double of 2018 backed up by another PRO14 title earlier this year.

On top of that, Ryan played a key role in Ireland's Six Nations win of 2018 as well as already starting in victories against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

And despite Ireland’s Grand Slam defence falling well short in 2019, Ryan’s form held solid, resulting in him being named 2019 Players’ Player of the Year by his peers.

The second row put in another dominant performance in Sunday’s opening World Cup win against Scotland, which has only crystallised McFadden’s view that 2021 would be the perfect time for Ryan to lead the Lions.

"James Ryan, what can you say about the guy that people haven't already? He's just become one of the top two players in the country easily," McFadden told The Left Wing, Independent.ie’s rugby podcast in association with Aldi.

"I just think the stats are off the charts every week and they don't change. He doesn't seem to make those simple errors, the handling errors that other players do tight in contact. He had an absolutely outstanding game.

"I’m pretty sure you can quote me from being on before, I’d mentioned that I think he’ll be a front-runner for that South African tour to captain the Lions. I said that because he was playing so well for Leinster at the time and I just think he’ll be at the perfect age going over there.

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"Touch wood for him but with the way he’s playing at the moment, you couldn’t argue against that really."

Ryan’s rise has been spectacular, with an injury-ravaged first season in 2017 followed by 2018’s clean sweep.

And with McFadden now one of Leinster’s elder statesmen, he has been seriously impressed with how Ryan has grown his leadership skills at senior level to the point where captaincy seems the next logical step.

"He’s one of those younger leaders. He was captain of his Junior Cup team, Senior Cup team, his U20 side," the 33-year-old continued.

"But he came into the Leinster set-up and decided, ‘I’m just going to prove my worth with my performances initially and then start to talk up a little bit more in meetings’.

"Some younger guys can come out of school and maybe talk a little bit too much. It’s hard to switch that off when you’ve been the leader in school and you’ve been the guy talking at all the meetings but that’s just the way James did it.

"The way he’s played, at times he doesn’t need to talk. He’s getting off the line every time. He’s making very few errors and he’s working his arse off every game. The stats show that."

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