James Ryan has quickly turned the page on the stellar season that earned him the Guinness Rugby Writers Ireland Player of the Year, which he collected at a gala event in Dublin last night.
The Leinster and Ireland second-row powerhouse was honoured by Irish rugby media members and their guests at the Guinness Storehouse as the game’s great and good gathered to celebrate a memorable 2018-19 season and look forward in eager anticipation to the World Cup campaign just around the corner.
Ryan, 23, is in a similar frame of mind for though the last year has delivered him a Guinness PRO14 title and landmark victories for both province and country as well as being lauded as the Players’ Player of the Year in addition to the trophy he received last night, there has been little opportunity to reflect.
Yet he believes the setbacks both Leinster and Ireland suffered in defeats last season, to Saracens and England and Wales respectively, having won a PRO14-European double with his province and won the Grand Slam in 2018-18 can be turned into positives for the challenges ahead.
“I think having some of those losses, they definitely hurt a bit for the group so I like to think they’re driving us on a bit,” Ryan said. “And if we do get a setback, maybe in one of these warm-up games or whatever it is, I think our ability to respond and to react will be better as a result of them.” The life of a professional rugby player is forward-focused as Ryan admitted this week as Ireland gear up to face Italy this Saturday in the first of four World Cup warm-ups ahead of the big kick-off against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22.
“A lot of it is genuinely week by week,” he said. “Like, there was a bit of reflection after the season and I was delighted to receive those awards. I enjoyed my holidays maybe a bit more as a result because it’s humbling to get that recognition.
Pressed for highlights of the campaign just gone, Ryan conceded: “Some of those big wins in November, we had Argentina and then the All Blacks, they were great moments and with Leinster, the Guinness PRO14, it was brilliant to win and end the season on a high, so I’d be looking at those.
“I like to think that my game has been steadily improving from season to season so I think in the 12 months previously I was pretty happy that I made progress and improvements across my game.”
A World Cup debut presents Ryan with the opportunity to showcase his talents on the global stage in what should be remembered is still just a two-year Test career that started before his first senior outing for Leinster. However, the lock is trying to focus on more immediate objectives.
“You’ve got to get there first. Hopefully, if you put in committed and accurate performances we’ll have a squad that can compete with anybody.
Only injury can realistically prevent first-choice Ryan from returning to Japan, where he earned his second cap on June 24, 2017, having debuted against the USA a fortnight earlier. And he believes an extended pre-season together as a squad can only benefit Ireland’s prospects.
“It’s tough work but it’s been enjoyable. Usually we might have a week together before a November window and a Six Nations but from my experience I’ve never been, you know, this happens once every four years when you get this prolonged period together.
“That is the exciting bit, having that long period together. It’s not something that happens very often so hopefully with these four big games we can be the cohesive, accurate, committed team that we’re able to be.
“I think we are moving in the right direction. Having this period together I think, hopefully, will stand to us. I think we’ll get a better idea of where we’re at once the games come around. We’ve worked hard in terms of strength and conditioning but at the end of the day it is a game of rugby so I think we’ll have a better idea of that after the weekend.”