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Paul O'Connell comparisons not a distraction for 'humble' Ryan

James Ryan of Ireland is tackled by Ross Moriarty of Wales
James Ryan of Ireland is tackled by Ross Moriarty of Wales
James Ryan: Humbling experience. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

He didn't exactly show it, but in the last 10 minutes on Saturday James Ryan has never been as nervous.

Paul O'Connell has spoken about coping with nerves in the past. All the legendary lock ever wanted to do was leave the country in the build-up to a big game.

As soon as match day arrived the vomiting would begin, and quite often O'Connell would rather be in among the supporters.

"I can relate to that," Ryan smiles, as his black eye begins to darken.

"The night before the game I'm not too bad, but certainly the morning of the game I'm very nervous. The game is too big not to be very nervous about it and I would be lying if I said I wasn't. Once you get out there it's fine. The build-up is the hardest bit."

Those could so easily be the words of O'Connell, as the 21-year-old mirrors the emotions of the former Ireland captain.

To compare the two almost seems unfair, yet with each passing Ryan appearance in green it's becoming increasingly difficult not to.

For someone so young, Ryan's potential is huge - so much so that even the ever-grounded Joe Schmidt admits that you have to be excited about the levels the youngster can reach.

Ryan, however, isn't about to get caught up with all of the hype and expectation. A man of few words, the former St Michael's College pupil would rather keep his head down and get on with the task at hand.

He is fully aware of the comparisons that are being made with O'Connell and while he has chatted with him, Ryan is uncomfortable with being talked about in the same breath as his idol.

"I've spoken to him a couple of times," Ryan says.

"We've had a few sessions with the 20s and caught up briefly then. Hopefully down the line I can chat to him for longer. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience and everything he says I soak it in. He has been there and done that.

"It's really humbling to be compared to someone like that, but it's not really appropriate. He's one of the greats of Irish rugby and to be compared to someone like that is humbling, but not appropriate."

With an attitude like that, Ryan will go far; more importantly, his performances on the pitch are at an astonishingly high level for someone with so little experience on the biggest stages.

Ryan's work around the pitch is outstanding and his relentless engine allows him to get through a huge amount, but it was his efforts in the scrum that were arguably most impressive on Saturday.

Andrew Porter deserves a huge amount of credit for the manner in which he handled himself in what was a remarkable performance, but the tighthead will be the first to point to the work that Ryan did behind him and the power that he generated from the engine room.

"It was really satisfying," Ryan maintains. "There was a lot of chat about the scrum and stuff this week, but I think the way Porter managed himself and performed in that area particularly was brilliant. I was behind him and he was like a rock all day, so credit to him."

A man of few words he may be, but evidently Ryan leads by his actions. He is a future Ireland captain lying in wait - and Jacob Stockdale knows exactly why.

"On the Irish U-18s he came in and was made captain straight away," the winger explains.

"The guys knew there was really good leadership quality with him. It was the same at U-19s and U-20s, he has always had that real leadership quality, that hunger to work hard and get over the gain line.

"It's just something that he has if that makes sense. There are guys who are natural leaders. They stand out in that sense like Rory (Best), Peter O'Mahony, Johnny Sexton and in the younger realm James Ryan - they have a certain factor."

A certain X factor that a certain Paul O'Connell also had from a young age. Maybe, just maybe, the comparisons are not so ludicrous after all.

Irish Independent

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