Why Maro Itoje is a 'nuisance'
NEWS: James Ryan is set on avenging his last defeat in a Leinster shirt when they meet Saracens in Saturday’s European Champions Cup quarterfinal.
It came on May 11, 2019, in last year’s final, when the English side denied the Irishmen a fifth success.
The 24-year-old Ireland lock returned to action after being on the sidelines with a shoulder injury in Leinster’s 27-5 victory over Ulster in the Pro14 Final on Saturday which was their 23rd successive victory since that Saracens defeat.
Despite the unbeaten run Ryan – seen by many as a future Ireland captain having skippered the Irish Under-20 side to the 2016 World Championship Final – says losses rankle.
“You never forget your defeats,” he said.
Key to which way the game goes could well be the way Ryan deals with England opposite number Maro Itoje who has clearly unsettled the Leinsterman in the past.
“Maro’s a great player, pretty well rounded, the overall package,” said Ryan.
“He is very good around the park, very good at the set-piece, just a very good operator.
“He can be a bit of a nuisance at times but that’s the strength of his game.”
Top seeds ☝️
Domestic champions 🏆
Unbeaten this season 🚫
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— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) September 15, 2020
Ryan – who was pivotal in Ireland’s 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam success – said he and his teammates needed to be on their game to prevent Itoje making hay.
“He’s very good at it and he’s very disruptive, so we’ve got to make sure we’re really nailed on, we’re primed and ready to go,” he said.
“If we’re sloppy at the line-out or the ruck we just give guys like him access to the game.”
Itoje’s ability to get inside the heads of his opponents is what worries Leinster’s forwards coach Robyn McBryde.
“He prides himself on getting into the minds of the opposition and being that nuisance,” said McBryde.
“He is just relentless in his ability to spoil any quality possession.
“You are going to have to be at your best,” added the former Wales forwards coach, who joined Leinster’s backroom team after last year’s World Cup.
The Saracens team that will face Leinster will be a much changed one from the squad that beat them 20-10 in the 2019 final.
Due to their relegation from the Premiership – on account of breaching the salary cap rules – 10 of them have moved on and playmaker Owen Farrell is suspended.
Ryan believes the absence of the combative Farrell will only serve to motivate Saracens as they seek to end a turbulent campaign with some silverware.
“Losing Farrell brings together their team,” said Ryan. “It will galvanise them.”
Although not playing, Farrell has still been working hard, filling the role of Leinster’s star flyhalf Johnny Sexton in training.
Alex Goode is expected to play at flyhalf on matchday with Elliot Daly at fullback.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) September 14, 2020