Sport Rugby

Thursday 22 March 2018

Ryan pushes for recognition in new environment

Timmy Ryan faces some fresh challenges at Newcastle this year, writes Brendan Fanning

N ew Year's Eve plans for Timmy Ryan were wild. "I'll be laying around the couch," he says. "Playing Xbox or PlayStation or something. With the lads." Indeed.

Newcastle travel to Wasps today in search of something to take them further away from bottom-placed Leeds, who are already tagged for the trapdoor. The Falcons' need for points is altogether stronger than their desire to ring in the New Year. And for their tighthead there is an opportunity to be grasped.

Ryan will come off the bench today for his first action since tearing a hamstring against Gloucester six weeks ago. He was ready to go last weekend until the snow arrived, and now he's hot to trot. Given the recent arrival from Northampton of Euan Murray, he would need to be.

"They've already talked to me about staying here next year," Ryan says. "And I'm quite happy here so obviously I'll consider that. If he (Murray) goes to the World Cup with Scotland, then he'll miss the first six Premiership games and between injuries and him not playing Sundays (for religious reasons), there's a lot of time there. And it's not as if I'm just going to let him come in and take my jersey."

Bit of a challenge then. Ryan is now 26 and needs to push on a bit. He left Munster two years ago in search of experience and he's got some: first for a season in Toulon where he reckons he was involved in 15 games, all of them hard going for a tighthead from out of town; and then this season with Newcastle where he has been the starting tighthead.

His high point with Munster was a terrific performance in November 2008 against the All Blacks. Having been earmarked for demolition that night he was rock solid. And then not much happened. Ryan's opinion of what he had to offer differed from that of Tony McGahan, who expected more, and the prop flew south.

"I'm a much better player now than when I left home," he says. "I've a much better concept of what's going on. It's a different game and you get used to the speed of it and you get that edge that comes with a bit of experience, from training and playing games.

"The French thing was good for me too in learning about the scrum. Like playing Clermont Auvergne away -- (Mario) Ledesma pretty much dominated our scrum. We played them in the semi-final of the Top 14 and he killed us again. Against all our first-team fellas who'd been playing all year, he absolutely destroyed our scrum. Over there they tend to have smaller tightheads and bigger looseheads and people kept asking my why I didn't play loose -- that it would suit my height and suit my game because I like to run around."

Seven years ago, people were asking the then 19-year-old why he wasn't in the front row -- specifically tighthead, the land of opportunity for all ambitious props. They are in the same earning bracket and importance as outhalves.

"That was also part of the reason I moved position. Back then everyone was saying there's no one for Hayes -- there are no tight heads in the country. That's what everyone was saying back then. So I was like: well people keep telling me to move to prop -- I'm big enough -- so it could be a good option. Take a chance. It mightn't have worked out for me but I think it has. If I'd stayed playing number eight, I don't know if I'd have played professionally. And I definitely don't think I'd have played professionally in Ireland. I might have had to move to England and then maybe come home. But as a prop, I was only at it two years when I was brought into the (Munster) Academy. That was the difference."

He had been part of the Munster Foundation as a number eight and dropped out when the experiment got under way. Has it worked? If he's earning a crust then clearly it has, but Ryan is ambitious and playing club rugby won't satisfy him. Currently he's playing in a side that are struggling, so it's hard to impress. Do Newcastle deserve to be where they are? "That's a hard one to answer. The only thing I'd say is that we played quite well at home. Even London Irish who smashed us up here -- when you go back and watch it on video,

we handed them the game. Just before half-time it was 12-10 for them and we gave them a try from nothing, from about 60 metres out. Then they scored about three intercept tries in the second half because we'd started chasing the game. That's the thing: as a team we're a little bit young -- a bit naive at times. We need to go and win the game rather than going and playing and having fun. Sometimes we're showing we have good skills and running everything when we should be focusing on winning."

The Saracens game is a good example. The Falcons lost it in the last minute? "We did, yeah."

And might it have been the Newcastle tighthead who conceded that last-gasp penalty for slapping the ball out of the scrumhalf's hands at a ruck?

"Eh, maybe. Well yeah. Fair enough, it was a bit stupid. But you live and learn."

The trick is putting what you learn into practice. With the arrival of Euan Murray, those opportunities with Newcastle will be limited and Ryan will need to make his mind up soon about what happened next, and where. It was last June when he did the deal to move to England's north-east, and the previous May when he swapped Cork for Toulon. He says he doesn't want another late, late job this season, that he wants to get sorted quickly.

Munster haven't lost track of him. We'll soon see what the New Year holds for Timmy Ryan.

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