Story of injured James Ryan in Junior Cup final tells you all you need to know
There was no way in hell he was missing out.
James Ryan has a couple of games to negotiate yet but he is on course to finish 2018 with 20+ victories (for Leinster and Ireland) and only two losses. He heads towards 2019 as part of teams that are reigning Guinness PRO14, Champions Cup and Six Nations champions.
Ryan had not lost a game in professional rugby until Ireland were beaten in Brisbane in the first match of their tour to Australia, but they would go on to win the next two to claim the series. Ryan told us:
"I was happy to leave that unbeaten record behind. Probably the only silver lining of losing in Australia, for me, was that that malarkey was finished."
Since that loss, Ryan has been in Ireland teams that defeated Australia (twice), Argentina and Australia. He lost his first game in Leinster blue, against Toulouse in October, but the juggernaut is picking up speed again. Bath were seen off at The Rec and Ryan (17 carries, 13 tackles) picked up yet another man of the match award.
Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble spoke about Ryan's "phenomenal" form in Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby [from 16:00 below] and suggested that he is inspiring so many around him. Ryan, himself, also confirmed and incredible story about his days playing with St Michael's College.
"He's got it in his eyes; he's like an animal," Murphy proclaimed. "There's no stopping him. Wouldn't you just love to take to the field with a guy like that every week?"
Trimble marvelled at how it all looks so easy for the 22-year-old and noted how his performances have driven on the likes of Ulster lock Iain Henderson to up his own game. Indeed, Henderson scored two tries in Ulster's win over Scarlets, in Belfast.
"Henderson has probably been looking on and going, 'What's going on?'" said Trimble. "Part of me is thinking Iain has it in his head that, 'James Ryan is getting all the attention. Time to produce a big one!'."
Both men could be paired together in the Six Nations but Devin Toner and Tadhg Beirne are also in the mix.
'Anyone would have done the same... on our team anyway'
Ryan has long since been a leader on the pitch. Former Leinster outhalf Cathal Marsh was a few years ahead of Ryan at St Michael's College but he recalls him training with the Junior Cup squad from first year on. Coach Andy Skeehan started playing him from second year on.
"I played fullback in 6th class and First Year [at Michael's] I was openside. Second year I was second row. Third year, Number 8 and from fourth year on I was into the death (second) row! That's how it all evolved."
Playing in the back row, as a third year, Ryan helped St Michael's reach the Leinster Schools Junior Cup final against Newbridge College only to badly injure his knee. Brian O'Meara, his former coach, recalls the injury being medial ligaments damage but the lock confirms it was worse than that again.
"It wasn't actually the MCL but I did damage it quite a bit. To be honest, I barely felt it.
"Like, it was a Junior Cup final and it was in a packed Donnybrook. We were on the verge of winning, so I think anyone would have done the same... on our team anyway."
Ryan is completely playing down the levels of pain he played on through in that final. He badly hurt his knee but played on until the end, made a crucial, try-saving tackle, stole the final Newbridge lineout, won man-of-the-match and was then on crutches for the next month.
There are 18 Michael's players currently playing professional rugby in Ireland and Ryan says the 'brilliant environment' mixed with a glut of talent coming through at the same time was key to the schools' success in producing young men able to kick on to the next level.
"You'd come in, in the morning, and do your fitness work, and then some analysis and video work at lunch-time, then you'd train after school. In many ways that kind of replicated a professional set-up. Maybe when you made that step-up, the lads had that experience and were able to do it well."
Flagged as a player to watch from the age of 13, Ryan has been living with pressure and expectations for close to a decade now.
Perhaps that is why he is able to play in Grand Slam deciders, European Cup finals and games against New Zealand like it is exactly where he is supposed to be.
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