Donnacha Ryan can’t take to the field with old comrades at the Aviva Stadium this weekend, but the Racing 92 second row continues to take pride in the part he played in Ireland’s journey towards the summit of world rugby.
The Tipperary man’s Test career had taken time to pick up momentum, but 47 caps had been pocketed and many more were in the pipeline before the decision was made to accept a move from Munster to Paris that removed him from consideration for national honours.
“It was going to happen some time for me anyway,” he said. “I still love watching Ireland. It’s always something I’m very passionate about. I always was and always will be. I would have had massive role models over the years who I got to play with.
“And now I’ve played with the younger guys and you’re looking up to them in admiration.
Ryan appreciates the blood, sweat and tears that have been expended in the national team’s ascent from amateur underdogs to professional trailblazers.
When he met Donal Spring on the flight home from France this week he saw a soulmate lock who had once worn the same green geansaí.
Many is the player who has spoken about ‘leaving the jersey in a better place than when they’d been handed it’ and Ryan will still be able to spot some of his old fingerprints on the Irish side as it faces up to a titanic clash with England.
“The Grand Slam of 2009 paved a way for a lot of guys with their professionalism and their attitude. Bloody hell, I know the Irish lads are still using the same calling structure at lineouts that I brought in years ago with Paulie (O’Connell).
“I miss it. Anybody would miss it. But I get massive satisfaction that I have played a part in the development of the players.”
Ryan has made a success of his switch to Racing 92 — as has Simon Zebo — and the former insisted that Jonathan Sexton remains very much in the hearts of the club’s fans despite an occasionally fraught two-year spell spent there by the Irish number 10.
That much was clear last March when, after Racing’s defeat of Stade Francais at the U Arena, he was pictured sitting on the pitch watching events unfold at Twickenham where Ireland put the seal on a famous Grand Slam campaign.
“Johnny came off as a sub and got a massive ovation in the stadium. I sent him a text to tell him: ‘You’re still loved over here’.
“He’d a massive journey having gone over there... He’s done fantastic for Leinster and Ireland.
“They look at the Irish team now and say: ‘You play as if you’ve no passion’. I say: ‘We’re unbelievably fired up, we just know exactly what we’re doing,’ ”