Tuesday 15 October 2019

'I'd be lying if I said that the mood was the same' - Rare experience of defeat will help make Ryan stronger

Second row star channelling his anger and disappointment at England loss into a big response at Murrayfield

James Ryan is ready to embrace the challenge Scotland will pose on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
James Ryan is ready to embrace the challenge Scotland will pose on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

James Ryan was always one to play down his stunning 100 per cent record as a professional in the months before he finally lost on the summer tour to Australia.

He had suffered enough defeats on the way up to know that the good times wouldn't roll forever, but nothing he'd experienced would have readied him for Saturday's humbling experience against England.

Like Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter, Jordan Larmour and Bundee Aki, he was experiencing a whole new ball-game as England took Ireland back to the 1990s, a place the 22-year-old lock is too young to remember.

Up until now, the Test arena has been Ryan's personal playground.

His astounding ability to make gain-line busting carries and dominant tackles has made him one of the top players in his position in the world.

He has 14 caps for Ireland and beaten every major Test nation, collecting a Grand Slam for good measure.

Every Sunday the squad bounced into camp, ready for the next scalp to take but he says this week was a bit different.

"Yeah, I think I'd be lying if I said that the mood was the same," he said.

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"You're coming in on a Sunday and a lot of the lads are definitely a bit down in themselves, but some of the lads have mentioned that it's important that you don't feel sorry for yourself, either, because the great thing about rugby and having a game the week after a loss is that you've got the chance to make things right. Hopefully this week we can do that."

The focus has already switched to next weekend, but the anger, disappointment and frustration linger; feeding into the motivation for Murrayfield.

"There is a bit of all that," he explained. "It's not just disappointment. There is certainly anger that we let ourselves down.

"It is just channelling that in the right area to prime ourselves this week, to make sure we leave no stone unturned in our preparation.

"It wasn't easy. It isn't easy losing a Test match, especially at home at The Aviva, which has been a fortress for us with your home crowd and our families there.

"We were certainly hurting. I think the focus, since we came in Monday, has been parking that, using the hurt, flicking the page pretty quickly because it doesn't get any easier.

"Scotland is a big one. They are on a bit of a run. They will be looking to make it two-from-two with that momentum. We've got to turn the page pretty quick."

Ryan's professionalism will help him through, but after being stymied at source against England he will be determined to play his way into the game by doing what he does best against the Scots - carrying the ball early and often to great effect.

"I do like to get into the game early, I think the bigger the stage, the more the basics count," Ryan said.

"So I like to get involvements early with a carry or a tackle. If I get driven back in the carry or if I soak my tackle, I'm not going to lose my head all of a sudden."

The problem last weekend was that Ireland's ball-carriers were too often driven back by ferocious English defence.

England made 48 dominant tackles to Ireland's six, a total that won't sit well with the Irish tight five in particular.

For all the talk of Ireland not getting their emotional pitch right for the game, Ryan believes there are technical fixes they can put in place to ensure they get better go-forward ball in Edinburgh.

"I think we need more variation," he admitted. "If they are flying out of the line, whoever has the ball can tip on or play in behind.

"It is not the first time it has happened. We faced that kind of aggressive defence before.

"We are just going to look at getting set that bit quicker this week.

"If we do that, it will make a big difference.

"I wasn't surprised (by England). I think they were really good defenders, certainly a tough team to carry against. We knew that going in. They have big boys, a pretty big pack.

"I think it's good experience for us, knowing that some teams are going to try and target us in the pack.

"If our shape is that bit better, we can tip on to the guy beside us or in behind. That comes into the accuracy part of it.

"If we get guys lined up quicker, in better shapes, then if they come up hard, you can tip on to the next guy or play in behind."

Although he has been learning the ropes as a lineout caller in recent months, Ryan won't be taking over from Devin Toner on Saturday.

Instead, his latest second-row partner, Quinn Roux, will be handed the responsibility of running the set-piece out of touch.

"Quinn has come in and I think he did a really good job off the bench last week," Ryan said.

"He was really physical, he has that experience of calling the lineout with Connacht, too.

"Billy Holland has obviously been called in and we know that Ultan (Dillane) is in really good form, too, so guys have stepped out but there's an onus on the guys that are here to step up."

That's what Ryan has done ever since he made his first strides in this tournament against France just over a year ago.

His hard work has ensured it's been plain sailing at international level until now, but Ryan is determined to keep improving.

He'll hope that the experience of this week will stand to him in the long term.

"I think I can get a lot better so I am certainly not satisfied at all," he said.

"To be honest, I want to push on and a week like that reminds us all all that we need to push on too.

"Use it as a positive and a learning experience, look back on Saturday and use it as a learning experience, kinda channel that bit of disappointment and anger."

So, we can expect to see a p***ed off Ireland when the whistle blows at 2.15 on Saturday then?

"You could well do, yeah," Ryan replies with a raised eyebrow and a wry smile.

Bouncing back is his next challenge.

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