James Ryan leaves his heart and soul in Paris, but all in pitiless vain
The Leinster lock raged against the dying of Ireland's Six Nations chances.
James Ryan has been a constant and dogged performer for his country since his Test debut, three years ago. Steady as she goes, but with much more menacing intent and brute force than that.
Ireland have finished third in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations standings, and they can really have no complaints. They tidily dealt with Wales, Scotland and Italy but fell short against the championship's two best sides, this year, in England and France.
Many elements of Ireland's two championship defeats were similar - players making uncharacteristic errors, big calls going against them, set-pieces crumbling and James Ryan planting his flag before taking on all-comers.
Very often in sport, some great individual performances are lost because a team loses. Even the players themselves don't like to dwell on their own positives as it has come with the collective sting of defeat.
In Paris, James Ryan was superb. He was a real talisman for his side and the source of so much good; so much to be proud of.
From the first moments of the game it was clear that Ryan was on top form. France came out charging but Ryan met fire with fire and shunted a couple of their big ball-carriers - Cros and Willemse - back with strong tackles.
Ireland coughed up an early try but they were the better side for long tracts of the first half as they dominated possession and territory. They worked themselves into a 10-7 lead, with Ryan, Will Connors and Cian Healy all stepping up with big moments.
What killed Andy Farrell's side, though, was sloppy errors by players that have so often delivered for their country over the years. Jacob Stockdale had a poor night in defence, but few in green could look back in anything but regret on the game, and their 35-27 loss.
Ryan and CJ Stander, they never quit out there. It didn't always go their way, and Wayne Barnes didn't let them have their way, but they kept picking themselves off the turf and rallying those around the,.
Stander, twice in the space of four second half minutes, made crucial turnovers at the breakdown. Ryan was wellying into tackles and halting French momentum. When they had it in close, Ryan and Ireland were on top of matters. When play became broken, due to errors, loose kicks or brilliant French play, that is when Ireland suffered.
Once Viremi Vakawata cruised over, with nine minutes to go, to make it 35-20, everyone knew Ireland's race was run. Heads dropped, as the realisation struck home that a championship had slipped away.
And still, in those final minutes of a game that was a lost cause, Ryan and Stander were still there, trying to do their best for them team and showing France that no flags would be waved.
Ryan and Stander were the stand-outs, but the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Will Connors were not far behind. Hugo Keenan too.
There is enough quality in this Ireland team to retain hope as the Autumn Nations Cup comes into focus. One hopes Tadhg Furlong is able to return, Iain Henderson and Ryan Baird too. It may be too soon to expect Dan Leavy to do wonders in green again after his knee injury comeback, but James Lowe will be Irish qualified.
This side are not far off, but on nights like these, the distance between champions and nearly men was painfully clear to see.
WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY IRELAND HERE:
SUBSCRIBE TO HOUSE OF RUGBY IRELAND: https://playpodca.st/house-of-rugby-ie
Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts. You can catch up on all our episodes from past seasons and interviews with Conrad Smith, Victor Matfield, Simon Zebo, Sean O'Brien, Drew Mitchell, Jean De Villiers, Finn Russell, Mike Brown, Brian O'Driscoll, Tana Umaga and much, much more.