Irish rugby legend finally says what many are daring to think about James Ryan
"He doesn't seem like the novice that he is."
James Ryan's last six games of an incredible season went like this:
- Champions Cup final vs. Racing 92 - WIN (82 minutes)
- PRO 14 semi-final vs. Munster - WIN (82 minutes)
- PRO14 final vs. Scarlets - WIN (81 minutes)
- First Test, Brisbane vs. Australia - LOSS (81 minutes)
- Second Test, Melbourne vs. Australia - WIN (83 minutes)
- Third Test, Sydney vs. Australia - WIN (81 minutes)
24 games for James Ryan (18 starts) and 23 victories to add to his first two professional games, and wins, against the USA and Japan last summer.
The Leinster lock was set to make his provincial debut last season but a bad hamstring snap saw him sit out until April 2017. He returned to Leinster training but made his professional debut for Ireland in New Jersey.
Such has been his incredible 12 months that some forget, now, that he scored a try 60 seconds after replacing Quinn Roux.
Australia snapped his winning streak at 24 but, like Ireland, Ryan came back stronger than ever. Tadhg Furlong and CJ Stander picked up the local broadcasters' man-of-the-match accolades after the wins in Melbourne and Sydney but Ryan was Ireland's Player of the Series. No doubt about it.
In his 245 straight minutes, the former St Michael's College and Ireland U20 captain made 39 carries, stuck 55 tackles and didn't miss a single one.
Ahead of the game, Shane Horgan and former Wallabies outhalf Michael Lynagh raved about the "fearless" Ryan on Sky Sports.
Horgan, who played 65 times for Ireland and four Tests with the British & Irish Lions, declared:
"In the last year Ryan has become one of the most important players Ireland have.
"Very dominant in the tackle and over the top. [Sometimes] it's as if he's up against Under 8s. His work-rate is incredible and the way he carries the ball, even in tough circumstances, he seems to be able to get over the gainline with a very, very strong leg drive."
Lynagh stepped in for a moment to marvel at how the 21-year-old had taken the fight to his countrymen in Brisbane and Melbourne and predicted he would do the same in Sydney. That he absolutely did.
Horgan then added a couple of predictions that should hit the mark in coming years:
"As a leader, you can see that [in players] sometimes. He's going to be a future Ireland captain. He could be a future Lions captain if he keeps the way he is going. If he keeps his body together, you know, how many caps could he have?"
Ryan will be 24 by the time the Lions travel to South Africa in 2021. If the Lions are smart, they will have already contacted Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt about leading the tourists to the southern hemisphere for that one.
Only three Ireland players wore the same jersey for all three Tests in Australia - Conor Murray and Rob Kearney were the other two - but only Ryan started and finished with his boots on.
He deserves his summer break and, while he is easing off the throttle, we are left with the fact that he is only getting better.