Politics sidelined but Ryan offering leadership

Only a game? Not strictly true.

Politics sidelined but Ryan offering leadership

Only a game? Not strictly true.

Academic papers have been written asking if All Black results have any affect on the New Zealand economy.

And there are those who will still say that general elections there in 1987 and 1999 were influenced by the national rugby team’s performances at World Cups just weeks earlier.

American researchers have studied this mix of sport and politics, too.

A study done at Loyola Marymount University about ten years ago returned evidence that the results recorded by college football teams within ten days of the booths opening played a part, admittedly minor, in determining local voting tendencies in Senate and even presidential elections.

Is it any wonder that President Trump was all over the LSU Tigers in the White House last week?

The basic theory behind all this is simple: If your team wins then the supporter is more likely to feel positive about life in general and lean towards the incumbents.

Lose and someone’s gotta pay and what better way than sticking it to the man?

We’ve all heard accusations of foreign interference in recent elections but, boy, that puts a lot of pressure on Romain Poite today.

Maybe it will be a James Ryan try or tackle that swings things one way or another.

The irony of Ryan propping up a Fine Gael government, however inadvertently, would be something else given his great-grandfather of the same name helped found Fianna Fáil, among several other notable feats.

A student of politics and history at UCD himself, Ryan has declared a “mildish” interest in the political domain in the past.

That’s a lot more than most of his Leinster teammates who, he declared with some mischievous relish and no little humour two years ago, to be “idiots”.

There are, though, some who think like him in this regard within the Ireland set-up.

Colm Fuller and Keith Fox, the team physios, are particularly engaged in politics, according to the second row.

As is the masseur Willie Bennett. Problem is that none of them will be able to exercise their democratic right today given their duties at the Aviva.

Nothing new there for Ryan who was captaining the Ireland U20s to a sensational comeback win over England back in 2016 when the country last had a general election.

His engagement with the process this week has been limited largely to the last televised leaders’ debate.

“There was a lot of barking at each other. Entertaining though.”

Entertaining, maybe, but informative it was not. The problem for Ryan and the rest of the Ireland team last Saturday was that their defeat of Scotland in the Six Nations opener was the polar opposite.

Attractive it certainly wasn’t but the game did at least tell us that Andy Farrell’s team won’t differ all that much from Joe Schmidt’s.

At least not for now.

Ryan’s assessment was of a game that went reasonably well.

Denying the Scots anything more than six points was the rock on which players and coaches have launched their own manifestos all week though there is an acceptance they lacked accuracy in attack.

Better is required today against a team which he labels “a different animal”.

“The foundation of the way they play is built around their energy, their workrate, how quick they can get up off the floor. And their attacking threats are massive.

"They scored 42 points last week [against Italy] and with somebody like George North in the centre they’ve got an embarrassment of riches there in that backline.”

And up front too. Wales have been particularly spoiled, as have Ireland, for back rowers in modern times but the jewel in the crown when it comes to their pack — or, the most dazzling of their rough diamonds, if you like — has been the indefatigable lock, captain and spiritual totem that is Alun Wyn Jones.

Now 34, Wyn Jones has been the pre-eminent lock in these islands since Paul O’Connell called it a day but there is a belief that Ryan, who this week committed to Leinster and Ireland through to the 2023 World Cup, has the talent, the work ethic and intelligence to assume the baton from the man who started playing rugby with village side Bonymaen RFC.

Ryan is a confirmed admirer, even if there is no longer any threat of being starstruck.

“I’ve played against him a few times at this stage so maybe it’s not as momentous as it would have been the first time I played him.

"But, yeah, he is certainly amongst the best second rows in the world. He has an insane amount of test caps now, so he’s kind of the heartbeat of their team in many ways.”

If Ryan hasn’t quite attained that status with Ireland yet then it only seems a matter of time.

He was heralded as a strong shout for the armband when Rory Best retired after the World Cup.

Jonathan Sexton got the nod but the younger man, still only 23, has been promoted onto the leadership group of six around him.

The choice of Sexton has been criticised but Ryan seems more than happy with his present posting.

It’s one that demands a greater input on the one hand while still allowing him to focus on a pre-match routine that involve 48 hours of carb-loading, plenty of sleep, some visualisation techniques and a written declaration of his personal goals.

It’s not actually all that long since he first learned to control the sort of nerves that can threaten to eat away at a man’s insides.

He’s better at that now. Not exactly relaxed as such, and certainly not laidback, just more comfortable in his skin as the day dawns and the enormity of it all with it.

“Yeah, I would have been very nervous. Getting up and first thing in the morning I would have had a knot in my stomach.

"I used to hate the bus ride in into the stadium, but I’ve got a bit better at managing that. There’s still the odd game when I do get that for no particular reason.

"Sometimes I just do feel more nervous than on other days but in general I manage it a bit better.”

And better, and better.

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