Story of teenage Ryan Baird in Leinster gym tells us an awful lot about his athleticism
"He’ll be pushing hard to get into the Ireland team, no doubt."
Ryan Baird has already given us a taste of how impactful he can be in Leinster's second row. Against Leinster, he showed the sort of damage he can do if given some open field to gallop into.
The Monday afternoon fitness updates from Leinster have, these past few weeks, made for some tough reading. In the province's latest update, some 16 senior players - including Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, Jordan Larmour, Max Deegan, Garry Ringrose and James Lowe - were either deemed unlikely to face Ulster (on Friday) or simply ruled out as part of the long-term casualties.
Added to that grim spectre was Leinster losing only their second game since May 2019 against Connacht, on Saturday at The RDS. Any Leinster fans searching for positives, though, will have surely been encouraged by Ryan Baird's first senior start in the No.6 jersey.
On House of Rugby Ireland, hosts Ian Madigan and Eimear Considine (listen from 28:00 below) spoke about Baird's impact, while Madigan shared a great tale about how his early gym achievements raised some excitable chatter.
"Ryan Baird was someone who stood out," said Considine. "He made 63 metres off 14 carries. He cut through the defence at one stage [in the first half] like a 15 would. A really good player for Leinster."
Added to those carrying stats, which included a second half try and two line breaks, Baird also got through a lot of defensive work and added an extra jumping option in the Leinster lineout. Madigan recalls hearing extremely positive reports about Baird back when he was a teenage prospect in the Leinster Academy.
"I remember hearing about Ryan, maybe a couple of years ago. I was talking to one of the Leinster lads and he was saying, ‘This guy is a freak in the gym. His CMJs would be over 60 centimetres’. That’s a Standing Movement Jump, which is just incredible. Any score over 50 is deemed very good. But over 60 for a man of his size is phenomenal. It just shows the power he has in his legs.
"Obviously we have seen him playing at second row before, and he’s a very good second row. But down to the power and pace… he’s actually got really good footwork for a big guy. I think we saw that at times, against Connacht. There’s no doubt that he’s definitely one for the future in that Leinster pack, and he’ll be pushing hard to get into the Ireland team, no doubt."
For context, Peter O'Mahony (pictured below) holds the Munster record of 63 centimetres for his CMJ (Counter Movement Jump) so Baird coming in over 60 is a fantastic starting point. Like Baird, O'Mahony was also turning heads when he showed up to the train with the senior (Munster) squad as a teenage prospect.
Last autumn, former Munster and Ireland captain Paul O'Connell spoke highly of Baird but suggested he may need to add some timber to operate at Test level in the Irish second row.
"With Ryan Baird, I think, particularly in the second row, I don’t think a little bit of time or a staggered introduction is a bad thing for him," O'Connell said.
"There are very few 110 or 112 kilo second rows playing international rugby now. You look at the second row pairing [Lood de Jagr and Eben Etzebeth] that South Africa had that helped them dominate England in the World Cup final, you do need weight, you need to be an athlete, you need to be fast, have great footwork to play in the second row, like maybe you didn’t need when I played. But you do need the bulk."
Baird was well aware of that need to add some weight to his frame, while maintaining athleticism, last year. During the first lockdown period, as rugby prepared to return and conclude the 2019/20 season, he told us:
"I naturally would be more fit but I felt, during the season, that I'd like a bit more bulk. So I've basically been trying to put on weight these last nine weeks. I've been gym-ing really hard and eating loads. It's working as I've put on a bit, around three or four kilos (7lbs)."
The 21-year-old has added some heft to his frame but looks to have lost none of that explosiveness and pace when he gets some open road. His long-term future may be in the second row but, in Scott Fardy, he has a good role model of versatility to learn from.
YOU CAN WATCH THAT FULL EPISODE HERE:
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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts, and has already featured interviews with Brian O'Driscoll, Nigel Owens, Sean Cronin, Shane Williams, Mike Brown, CJ Stander, Ugo Monye, Sene Naoupu, Schalk Burger, Dan Leo, James Lowe, Marcell Coetzee, Ciaran Griffin and Ian Keatley.