WAITING BEHIND TADHG Furlong in the tighthead pecking order must be doubly frustrating given the Leinster prop’s world-class quality and ability to get through huge shifts on a weekly basis.
Furlong’s immense fitness levels means he has the engine to regularly play 65/70 minutes of a Test match, as opposed to the loosehead side where Joe Schmidt often freshens things up early in the second half, as we saw against France on Sunday.
Ryan speaking to media at Carton House today. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
For John Ryan, this is nothing new and the Cork native has certainly had to be patient for his opportunities at international level, coming in and out of Schmidt’s plans on a regular basis since his debut against Canada in 2016.
His first six caps were all off the bench, cameos rarely exceeding 20 minutes, and it wasn’t until last summer that he was handed a starting opportunity against a top-tier nation, his three previous starts coming against USA and Japan.
Ryan’s fourth start under Schmidt in Brisbane was a big step forward for the 30-year-old, particularly after he had fallen behind Stephen Archer at Munster, and he has now worked his way back into the international fold after missing out on the first two rounds of Six Nations action.
The emergence of Andrew Porter appeared to spell bad news for Ryan’s long-term Ireland prospects but it’s a testament to his work-ethic in training that the Munster man has been able to jump up the depth chart within the championship window.
While Porter was released back to Leinster for Pro14 duty, and then left out of the matchday squads for Italy and France, Ryan has seized his chance as Furlong’s understudy, making strong appearances off the bench in Rome and then again last Sunday.
“From my point of view, when Tadhg is there, whether it’s me or Andrew on the bench, he’s a world-class tighthead and has that engine to go for 65-70 minutes,” Ryan says.
“So it was great to be able to get on for nearly 25 minutes against France and see the pace of the game and get that exposure to international, top-flight rugby.
“It definitely gives me confidence. I’ve been in and out since 2016 so there’s always a battle, you’re always looking over your shoulder. There’s Andrew Porter, Finlay Bealham and there’s further afield as well.
“It’s really competitive at tighthead compared to what it was in previous years so I’m delighted where I am now and hope I can keep the performances up and drive it on.”
Ryan, who recently signed a three-year contract with Munster, is set to be involved again this weekend as Ireland conclude their championship with a trip to Cardiff to face Grand Slam-chasing Wales.
The competition with Archer for the number three jersey at Munster, he says, has helped focus his mind and drive standards on a daily basis, allowing Ryan make improvements in his overall fitness and ball-carrying ability to augment his strong scrummaging quality.
Ryan has worked hard on his game in recent times. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland
“When you see the likes of Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne carrying a lot, it’s something you need to have,” he continues. “You can’t just scrummage, you can’t just do your job in defence, you need to add to my game. I’ve only had a few [carries] in the last two weeks but I feel it has improved a good bit.”
The intensity in training at Carton House has also forced Ryan to raise his game, ultimately contributing to his promotion back into Schmidt’s plans after initially starting the championship behind Porter.
“I can’t speak for Joe, he keeps his cards close enough to his chest, he won’t tell you what you can expect because if you know what’s coming, are you going to put in the same effort as if you don’t know?
“Everyone is putting the effort in and that’s the way it worked out. I don’t know the team for the weekend, I don’t know if I’ll be involved but fingers crossed it’ll stay the way it has been for me.
There was a nice moment for Ryan after Sunday’s win over France, too, when his young son, Felix, joined him on the pitch alongside many of the other players’ children.
“It was nice, it was like a creche on the pitch after the game,” he laughs. “I rarely bring him on, but it was nice to have my son there after the game.”
Now the focus has turned to Wales, Ryan is ready for another opportunity to make an impact off the bench, even if it’s for the final 10 minutes when Furlong’s engine eventually runs out.
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