Older Irish heads around to save green captain
SPOTLIGHT: James Ryan says that although he will be wearing the captain’s armband for Ireland in Saturday’s Nations Cup clash with England, he will be relying on older heads to help him.
The 24-year-old second-row forward has been chosen by head coach Andy Farrell to stand in for the injured Johnny Sexton – just as he did when his Leinster teammate went off in the first half of the 32-9 win over Wales last Friday.
With Sexton now 35, Ryan has been seen by many as a potential long-term skipper of the national side along with his another Leinster colleague Garry Ringrose.
Ryan has previous experience of captaining an Irish side having skippered the Under-20 team to their best-ever performance at a world championship losing to England in the 2016 final.
He said, though, he would not be shouldering all the responsibility come Saturday at Twickenham.
“It is obviously a huge honour for me and I am looking forward to it,” he said at press conference on Tuesday.
“However, I won’t be on my own as there are older heads around like Peter O’Mahony and ‘Hendy’ [his second-row partner Iain Henderson].
“Having them around will make my job a lot easier.
“Also Johnny is with us for the whole week so he will have his say and give advice too.”
Ryan, who burst onto the Test scene with some eye-catching performances in the Ireland team that secured the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2018, says he does not feel any added pressure on his young shoulders.
“To be honest I feel the same pressure this week as every week,” he said.
“If I do my job [in the second row] really effectively and not get sidetracked by captaincy stuff that is my focus.
“I want to get my performance right like the others.”
Since Ireland clinched the Grand Slam at Twickenham in 2018 they have fared badly against Eddie Jones’s side – their only defeat in their last 20 home Tests coming last year.
They have also been beaten twice at Twickenham with the aggregate score from the last three meetings 113-47 and been outscored 15 tries to six.
Ryan, though denies that those reverses have created a fear factor when playing the English at Twickenham.
“[There is] Probably a little bit of fear in every Test match whether it be Paris or Twickenham,” he said.
“This level is so high and requires such a big effort to get over the line in winning.
“It was a good performance against Wales but this is a big step up and we know we have to be a lot better again.
“However, it is also a huge opportunity for us.”
Ryan thinks the Irish have developed a more unpredictable offence since their 12-24 defeat at Twickenham in the Six Nations earlier this year.
After England’s 40-0 win over Georgia at the weekend, Jones said Farrell had made Ireland’s attack “a little bit unpredictable”.
“I suppose we are always working on that unpredictability,” said Ryan.
“It definitely looked good against Wales.
“We need variety in our attack on Saturday as there is no bigger test than England to see where we are at.”