Monday 20 August 2018

'If you're good enough, then you're old enough'

Stars of the future have played a key role in the present

James Ryan, left, and Jacob Stockdale stand for the anthems before the Six Nations clash against Wales. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
James Ryan, left, and Jacob Stockdale stand for the anthems before the Six Nations clash against Wales. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

As the teams lined up for the anthems prior to the win over Wales, the sight of James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Porter standing side by side was cause to momentarily stop and reflect on their remarkable journey.

The last time the exciting young trio had started a game together was 20 months previously when they were instrumental in the Ireland U-20s' march to the Junior World Cup final.

This weekend, they will return to England, where their dreams were crushed that day in June 2016, and this time, they stand on the precipice of creating even bigger history.

Ryan, Stockdale and Porter are three of six players who could be in the match-day squad on Saturday who have never tasted defeat with Ireland.

The message that will be driven this week is that Triple Crowns don't come around that often, let alone Grand Slams - as Johnny Sexton reminded us on Saturday.

The winning mentality that is ingrained in the youngsters' mentality is infectious, while their fearlessness has allowed them to seamlessly make a massive step up to the Six Nations.

Acceleration

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by their acceleration to this level. After all, the trio have blazed a trail in everything they have done up to this point.

That is a feeling that is shared amongst the squad and in particular the senior players like Sexton and Rory Best, who acknowledges that the new breed of young players in this country are of a higher standard than they have ever been.

"Whenever I came through as a young player, your biggest limiting factor was your physical capacity and the way some of these young guys are being turned out of schools and the academy, physical presence isn't an issue," the Ireland captain said.

"Just look at Andrew Porter. So therefore physically they can keep up with the adults, if you like, and then as Alex Ferguson said, 'If you're good enough, then you're old enough' and that is the case here."

What makes the trio's rapid progression even more fascinating is that none of the England players who won the Junior World Cup in 2016 are in the mix for Eddie Jones's side this weekend.

Picking from a much larger player pool has its advantages but this is another sign of Ireland's pathways working extremely well.

Porter was immense against Wales and could yet have another major say off the bench on Saturday.

It said so much about Ryan's staggering level of performance that despite a player of Iain Henderson's calibre returning from injury, last week's big selection issue didn't concern him in the slightest.

The 21-year-old has cemented his place in the engine room and ahead of the showdown at Twickenham, the major question is; who starts alongside him?

Ryan set the tone in Paris with a mature performance that was beyond his years.

Against Scotland last weekend, he was Ireland's top tackler (15) and carrier (13). And that's not to mention how much of a force he was at the lineout.

Ryan plays the game as if he is a seasoned veteran, so it is no wonder Joe Schmidt has shown so much faith in him, but even still, for a 21-year-old to have made this much progress in such a short space of time is impressive.

Ryan captained Porter and Stockdale throughout the Ireland underage teams that they were involved in and the flying winger has spoken about the special aura that he has about him.

Like his former skipper, Stockdale has not been fazed by anything that has been put in front of him.

Ten tries in eight caps is a phenomenal strike-rate and while he still has defensive issues, it is impossible to drop him.

That almost goes against Schmidt's nature as he demands that his players do the basics well, but Stockdale is an exception to the rule.

A first trip to Twickenham with a Grand Slam on the line would ordinarily be a daunting task but these players thrive under the pressure.

The last time Ryan, Stockdale and Porter lost in a green jersey was in 2016. Losing on the international stage is just not something they are used to.

That winning mentality is something that Schmidt craves and in this next crop, he has born winners who are on the verge of writing themselves into the history books which certainly bodes well for years to come.

Irish Independent

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