Ryan Baird smashing All Black legend's Bronco record is only the beginning
Most Leinster and Irish rugby supporters have been eagerly anticipating Ryan Baird taking his game to another level ever since he first exploded on to the scene in 2020 and announced his intentions with a hat-trick against Glasgow Warriors.
Baird made his Leinster debut at the tail-end of the 2018/19 season but made nine senior appearances the following season and showed enough to get people very revved up. He made 22 appearances the following season, including five outings (one start) for Ireland.
All going to plan, 2021/22 was supposed to be the year he started really turning heads. It was all lined up for him. There were two more Ireland caps, including a Six Nations start against Italy, but only five starts in the Leinster second row, and two more at blindside.
For the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup and URC, Leinster turned to Ross Molony and even Joe McCarthy to partner James Ryan in the second row. Conscious of the need for a big unit lock, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster also brought in South African Jason Jenkins from a bit-part (injury affected) stint at Munster.
Sure, Baird made the end-of-season tour to New Zealand but he did not get a look-in for the Test Series, even after Iain Henderson went home injured. He played twice against the Maori All Blacks but did not advance his Test case. Nor did he during the November Test and 'A' games in Dublin.
Heading into the 2023 Six Nations, it looked as though Leinster had made their mind up on Baird as a blindside option. Then, he got his chance off the bench against Italy and has not looked back since. He had to bench impact games in the championship and started beside James Ryan against England in the Grand Slam decider. He looked as if he belonged.
On House of Rugby [LISTEN from 4:30 below], the panel discussed the emergence of Ryan Baird as a top-level lock and blindside option, as well as the 23-year-old's impressive training and speed statistics.
Impressive 'Bronco' score for Ryan Baird
"That is a guy that's in serious form," said Jason Hennessy. "He did impress in that last game, against England, then he had a fine game for Leinster at blindside. So he's playing out of his skin in the second row and is then just as good, if not even better, in the back row. It's scary."
"Absolutely," agreed Lindsay Peat. "And he's still so young so if we can balance that natural, athletic ability of his - he's a man-monster - with his game understanding, and reading, he's just going to get better and better. You could see it there when he was making tackles then straight back up for turnovers, and competing."
Greg O'Shea recalled the first half moment, not long after Baird had powered over for a try, when the rangy forward hunted down a flying Mike Lowry and brought him down with an excellent, low tackle. It was a phenomenal show of pace and awareness, as he released Lowry then shot up to try win breakdown ball.
Peat was speaking with someone well in with the Leinster set-up, and she spoke of how highly Ryan Baird has scored in some speed and stamina tests.
"He's well in with all the backs for a lot of their fitness scores," she said. "They do broken broncos and his scores are in and around the backs. He is under four and a half (minutes)."
Broncos are shuttle runs that total out to 1.2km and are a real test of both speed and maintaining a high but steady pace. Hugo Keenan holds the Leinster record, at 4:11, but 6-foot-6 Baird is not far off.
Ryan Baird Bronco time beats AB's legend
When Logan Dodds took on the Bronco challenge for the 'Rugby Fit' series, he managed it in 4:47 while Waikato Chiefs winger Liam Coombes-Fabling won the team prize with a time of 4:17. Chiefs and All Blacks fullback Damien McKenzie runs it in 4:28.
To put that Baird time of sub 4:30 in perspective - in terms of forwards - All Blacks legend Richie McCaw did the Bronco in a very good time of 4:56. Baird is having that on toast.
When Baird spoke with us, in May 2020 [during the Covid pandemic] he spoke of doing bronco runs with his two younger brothers during lockdown, out his back garden. He was even doing 'doubles' [back-to-back broncos] to push himself more.
Added to that, his has a CMJ [counter movement jump] of 60 centimetres, pushing CMJ kingpin Peter O'Mahony [63cm] hard, and giving himself a target to beat.
"That is what sets Leinster and what sets Ireland apart," said Hennessy. "If you look back at some of the top second rows we had, back in the day, would you ever see Paul O'Connell or Malcolm O'Kelly doing a tackle like that one [on Lowry]?
"They were brilliant players, but it just goes to show you how much the game has evolved - from 1 to 15, they are dynamic."
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