"Play him as soon as possible" - Ryan Baird exceeding great expectations
"Getting him in for exposure, early on, would be good."
That was Andrew Trimble's take on Ryan Baird, Leinster's latest rising star, at around 10:21am on Monday.
"Yeah," Jerry Flannery agreed. "Play him as soon as possible."
Within 30 minutes on that exchange, Baird received his first ever full senior call-up. House of Rugby would like to take the credit but Baird's frightening potential and his man of the match performance (including the scoring of a hat-trick) against Glasgow probably added more heft to his claims. Probably...
The 20-year-old Leinster lock had already been training with the senior squad, during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations championship, as one of four development call-ups. His two Guinness PRO14 outings against Ospreys and Glasgow have given Andy Farrell a nudge to get Baird in and fully training with the established internationals.
On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Trimble and Flannery joined Barry Murphy to discuss Ireland's disrupted Six Nations campaign and getting Baird capped as a matter of course.
Baird's involvement against Glasgow was only his seventh of the season and just his second start. Alongside the equally impressive Scott Fardy, he got front-foot ball the entire evening, made line breaks, scored tries, stuck his tackles and was effective at the breakdown. He was two giant hands full.
"A hat-trick in the space of 60 minutes," Murphy mused. "I was saying to Fla that his physique is something else. His back is THIS wide. Fla compared him to Retallick, for New Zealand. He’s got big, long arms. Big stride. As much as James Ryan is an animal and the phenom, as we were calling him before, and a big guy, Baird is even more impressive as an athlete.
"He’s been talked about for a few years now," said Trimble. "Definitely over a couple of years people have been talking about him and saying he’s going to be the next James Ryan. If he is anything like James Ryan, and he looks like he’s got some potential about him, then you have two of the best… if he gets to the level that James Ryan is at - obviously he’s got a lot of work to do between now and then - well that’s a ridiculous second row combination, isn’t it?"
If Baird, with lots more work from himself and those around him, can get close to Retallick's insane levels then Irish rugby could have a bonafide star for the next decade and more.
Flannery watched Baird and his Ireland U20 teammates closely during the 2019 Six Nations and World Cup and says he was a stand-out performer.
"I watching him at the World Cup and his ability to offload… he’s got, like you said, long levers and you could see when he made the break for his second try [against Glasgow], you could see that real high knee lift when he was running. He’s a real athlete and I watched him at Under 20 level and he’s really comfortable on the ball.
"If you’re looking at the depth chart for Leinster, going down, there’s only a couple of positions where they’re probably looking a little bit like light down the line. I suppose, with Scott Fardy and Dev Toner’s age profile [second row is one of them]. But with Baird coming in, him and James Ryan... when you get a guy and you pick a guy in the second row and he can score a hat-trick for you like that."
Although Baird has played blindside flanker and No.8 at club and age grade level, Murphy would love to see him deployed like Saracens and England do with Maro Itoje.
"A lot of chat last week, after the English match, was obviously Itoje and how much damage he was doing, defensively, and he is obviously kind of a similar build. Long limbs and he gets in the way, and he’s pulling and dragging. A lot of talk that we don’t have players like that in Ireland; a lot of pundits saying that. But there’s one clear example of a guy we have."
"Baird seems to be more of an attacking player," Flannery noted. "Itoje is very, very destructive and disrupts an awful lot. I think Baird, his upside is more on the attack side of things and what he can do. I’m not saying he can’t do the other side, but, look, all positive."
Ryan, Retallick and Itoje.
Seven games in and Baird is getting people - experienced rugby heads - that excited.
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Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble are joined in the House of Rugby studio by Jerry Flannery to discuss Ireland's 35-man squad for the France game, the ongoing fixture conundrum caused by the Coronavirus and look back on a Guinness PRO14 weekend.