By Brendan O’Brien
Donnacha Ryan likes to lose himself in Paris when he isn’t doing his day job with Racing 92.
He may perform in front of thousands of people but the attention on him as an individual doesn’t sit well on a personal basis so the anonymity of the French capital has an obvious appeal and one he will likely eagerly embrace on his return from Bilbao.
There is no escaping the spotlight for him right here right now. The Nenagh man accompanied co-coach Laurent Travers and captain Yannick Nyanga to yesterday’s media event and found himself facing 50% of the enquiries from the floor.
"It’s been different, I wouldn’t like that level of scrutiny. I just try to focus on a performance, that’s all I can do,” Ryan said. “It’s great that Irish people are following Irish players in France and it’s great for me living in France, I’m learning the language — slowly.
“But I’m more used to playing in big games now. I’m fortunate I’ve been in environments where it’s been about the process and the system. I separate it from the emotional side.
“It’s all very well being emotionally attached, but if you’re not doing your job properly it doesn’t matter. I’m fully committed to doing my job and bringing the intensity. That’s the easiest part of being a rugby player. You love playing rugby as a job, it’s fantastic, but you can’t lose sight of the task in front of you.”
Ryan has been making a lot of it look easy this season.
He described his move to France last summer as the “extra kick” that he needed and Racing have benefited enormously from his performances on the pitch and his input off it. Joe Rokocoko joked this week that he never seems to be out of the video room.
"It was essential to the team that he brought this British, or Irish — sorry Donnacha — experience and he has added value,” said Travers. “We have had to think about a lot of discussions with Donnacha on the pitch or dressing-room.
That education has worked both ways.
“Definitely,” said the former Munster man. “I have found there’s always a different way to do things, which is good. Especially in the lineout. The likes of Laurent and Yannick look at things differently. We have a great synergy, working around each other.
“Every day is a school day and you understand there are so many more cultures in the group than before, it’s so unique. I try on the pitch to impress the lads but I’m in the second row, and you don’t do the flashy stuff. I leave that for Leone!”
Nakawara, that is.
The Fijian is a multi-talented second row and a man for all seasons who has earned cult status in the cold north with Glasgow Warriors and then won an Olympic gold medal in the sunnier surrounds of Rio de Janeiro with his national sevens side.
“He’ll greet you every morning with a big hug, which is unusual, but incredible and it makes me smile,” said Ryan. “You see guys like Leone and Yannick in training, how hard they train, and you look up to them.
“It gives you that confirmation in your own head: The hard work needed to get to that level.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have octopus hands so he can do the off-loading. He likes to walk in sometimes with his Olympic gold medal on his chest.”
And so to Leinster.
European finals don’t usually need sugaring but how sweet would it be for a man who spent 14 years with his native Munster to decorate his first campaign on the continent with a medal claimed at Leinster’s expense?
"We’re basically playing against an Irish Grand Slam-winning team with extraordinary talent and a brilliant bench,” he said.
Ryan’s loss to Munster has been considerable but it is a blow that has been absorbed much better by Ireland thanks in no small part to the emergence this season of James Ryan who still hasn’t lost a game of professional rugby after 20 appearances.
Donnacha Ryan played against him two years ago in a development game, when making a return from a concussion with the Munster ‘A’ side and his younger namesake was togging out for the Ireland U20s.
“He’s had an incredible season. I was getting feedback from the Munster lads during the Six Nations and his GPS scores were incredible.
“Devin (Toner) has done everything, and the Leinster lineout has done very well this year. I also played alongside Leo (Cullen) and I know he’s very diligent and it’s important how we react to those things on the pitch and how we can close him down the best we can.”
Time again to stand up and be noticed.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.