'We’ve been wearing plastic bags for training sessions to lose the body fat'
James Ryan continues his outrageously rapid rise.
A new season is upon us but James Ryan enters 2019/20 with the final award from a previous season that saw his stock rise ever more.
Ryan's debut season as a professional saw him win a double with Leinster, a Grand Slam, go 23 games unbeaten and contribute massively to a series win in Australia.
Last season saw Leinster - albeit retaining their Guinness PRO14 title - and Ireland have it tougher, but Ryan's performances improved again. His impressive sophomore season was recognised with the Players' Player of the Year award, in May, and the Guinness Rugby Writers Award at a ceremony at the Guinness Storehouse on Wednesday.
Here is the full transcript of the James Ryan interview that preceded the awards ceremony:
Congratulations on winning the Guinness Rugby Writers Ireland Player of the Year award, what are your thoughts on the season just gone?
“The highlights, some of those big wins in November, we had Argentina and then the All Blacks, they were great moments and with Leinster, the Guinness PRO14, it was brilliant to win and end the season on a high, so I’d be looking at those.”
And personally, some high points in terms of performances?
“Looking back, winning the Players’ Player award was really humbling to win, getting that recognition from the players, that was an accolade I’ll look back on.
“I like to think that my game has been steadily improving from season to season so I think in the 12 months previously I was pretty happy that I made progress and improvements across my game.”
Journey from 2017 Test debut and tour to Japan, going back there for a first World Cup feel like the end of the first chapter of your career?
“Yeah, 2017, I was on that tour and it was great, I loved it. Mad country, it’s certainly different to playing in Europe just in terms of the environment and everything so hopefully I’ll be going back there for the World Cup.”
What made it mad?
“I think the kind of environmental stress. Like a lot of the work we’ve been doing so far has been strength and conditioning because of the heat and the humidity over there, it’s something that we’re not used to.
“So the reason that we’ve done a lot of that work is to make sure that we have the stamina to excel in those conditions.
Going to Portugal next week for warm weather conditions, done anything under that kind of duress in training so far?
“Yeah, we’re going to Portugal next Wednesday and I think it will be quite hot. In terms of duress, we’ve been doing a lot of running fitness because obviously you need to be running fit. We’ve been wearing plastic bags for a number of training sessions to kind of lose the body fat and the days we were doing that were actually kind of hot as well so the conditions were unpleasant.”
Actual plastic bags, something more sophisticated or like ponchos at a festival?
“They were pretty much like ponchos, so we did a bit of that as well, yeah.”
Did the 2017 tour help you prepare for going back there this time around?
“Yeah, I think it does a bit, just having that bit of familiarity playing in it and having that bit of experience in that heat and humidity that we did. It’s a different time of the year so the weather could be slightly different but yeah, I think it will stand to us when we get there, certainly having that experience there, certainly with the travel as well. We’ll be travelling a lot on the bullet trains and we’ve done a bit of that too, so that should help.”
Mad to think just two years ago you were winning your first cap and now here you are, double player of the year, recognised by both your peers and the media, can you ever reflect on that rapid ascent and the path you’ve taken?
“A lot of it is genuinely week by week. Like, there was a bit of reflection after the season and I was delighted to receive those awards. I enjoyed my holidays maybe a bit more as a result because it’s humbling to get that recognition.
“Certainly when your season starts there’s always something in front of you and especially what we have coming up in September, so my focus did shift pretty quickly from last season. Even though it wasn’t very long ago it feels like a distant memory now in many ways.”
Given much thought to this being your first World Cup, breaking new ground still, despite all the experiences to date?
“I’ve given much thought to the fact that, you know, you’ve got to get there first. Hopefully if you put in committed and accurate performances we’ll have a squad that can compete with anybody.
“But yeah, playing on a world stage for your nation is where you want to be. It’s the dream of any athlete so if I was picked it would be, I’m sure, an unbelievable experience.”
So how has it been so far? A strange time in a way given the selection process that hangs over all of you?
“It’s been good so far. It’s tough work but it’s been enjoyable. Usually we might have a week together before a November window and a Six Nations but from my experience I’ve never been, you know, this happens once every four years when you get this prolonged period together.
“We’ve been together for quite a number of weeks now and we’ve a nother few to go so it’s exciting in that sense, being able to spend that much time together because hopefully we’ll be more cohesive as a result of that. You know, I’m getting to know guys a bit better than maybe I would have and all of those little things add up.
“So we’ve got four Test matches coming up, the Italians this weekend, and we’ve all worked very hard so hopefully we can see that paying dividends.”
And you’re obviously itching to go now, to getting some rugby under your belt…
“Yeah, yeah, we are. Like it’s been a lot of strength and conditioning work for quite a number of weeks so we’re all itching to play again now.”
Excited by what you can achieve as a team within that club structure of being together? You’ve put together some really good stuff on the back of seven days at Carton House so it must pretty exciting to see what you can do off the back of six to eight weeks and four games together to build towards RWC?
“Exactly, yeah, that is the exciting bit, having that long period together. It’s not something that happens very often so hopefully with these four big games we can us being the cohesive, accurate, committed team that we’re able to be.”
Have you thought too much about beyond those four Tests, to the Pool opener against Scotland? Doing any homework on Scotland yet?
“No, we’re not, to be honest. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at the back of my mind. Of course it is, it’s a massive game but if you think of it, four Test matches coming up, that’s a lot of rugby to be played.
“Guys are going to be injured, unfortunately, that’s the nature of the game and the only thing you can be thinking about if you want to get on the plane is your performance in the warm-up games.
“So while it’s at the back of my mind, we’re not really looking too far ahead this week in terms of what’s coming up.”
Is it easy to say you’re trending in the right direction as a squad? This has been your first chance to reflect as a group on the Six Nations, are you moving in the right direction?
“Yeah, I think we are moving n the right direction. Having this period together I think, hopefully, will stand to us. I think we’ll get a better idea of where we’re at once the games come around. We’ve worked hard in terms of strength and conditioning but at the end of the day it is a game of rugby so I think we’ll have a better idea of that after the weekend.”
Those tough days in the second half of the season, England, Wales, Saracens, tough defeats - do you think they’re going to help you become an even stronger player mentally, in the way you respond to those performances? And as a collective, will this be a test of the character of the team, being able to channel those into positives?
“Yeah, I think so. You’d rather be going in winning a Grand Slam and having a bit of disappointment there as well. I think having some of those losses, they definitely hurt a bit for the group so I like to think they’re driving us on a bit.
“And if we do get a setback, maybe in one of these warm-up games or whatever it is, I hink our ability to respond and to react will be better as a result of them.”
You talked about the selection battle, here has been some pruning this week, including a lock, what sort of effect does that have? What’s the thought process?
“It’s really competitive squad, there’s so much competition so the thought process is making sure that when you do get an opportunity in a warm-up game you’re putting in a committed and accurate performance because the competition is so high that there is no certainty for anybody really. So that’s my thought process really.”