A metre quicker, a lot calmer and much much wiser, Donnacha Ryan has really got on his bike since the last World Cup.
It was four years ago in New Plymouth, New Zealand, that the Ireland lock, overlooked by Declan Kidney for the opening game against the United States, went for a pedal into town to meet some pals visiting from Australia and ended up on the wrong side of the law.
“I didn’t play the first game against America,” Ryan recalled yesterday, “but I went to meet some friends in a local bar”.
“I was cycling down. I was disappointed not to get a run and ended up getting pulled over by the cops for not wearing a cycling helmet. I couldn’t catch a break that night!
“I had to walk the bicycle for another 500 kilometres, [sic] so I got a lot of slagging from the lads.”
The sense of fun and mischief remains very much to the fore when Ryan engages in conversation but the 31-year-old’s outlook has changed since 2011, a result of a series of injuries and lengthy periods of rehabilitation that have given perspective to his profession and the opportunity to play in a second World Cup.
“I wasn’t confident of being here a few months ago,” Ryan said as Ireland continued their preparations at St George’s Park for Sunday’s Pool D game against Romania.
“So I’m just delighted to be here and very grateful to be here. I’m enjoying training and the atmosphere. It’s been fantastic so far and just trying to get better every day.”
Making the squad, Ryan admitted, amounted to bonus territory for a man who went through a mentally tough journey as he rehabed his foot.
“It was us up and down.
“I suppose I learned an awful lot about myself. I’m trying to park it now and move on, and try to get better and not overthink things too much further down the line. Just focus on today’s training.
“I used to think things two or three years down the line which is not a safe thing to do in rugby. So it gives you massive perspective. Everybody goes through injuries, and it does test your mettle but I was fortunate enough to have fantastic people around me as well, and the physios were fantastic.
“I’ve learned an awful lot about feet in the meantime as well. I’ve been able to consult with a lot of other individuals who’ve had the injury. A few other players have had it and have been in touch with me as well, and it’s great to be able to give them as much advice as I can from my experience.
“I used to get very stressed out about things, in a good way. I’d put massive pressure on myself to perform. Obviously I didn’t want to let anyone down. I love the pressure and now I’m really, really enjoying it.
“I probably sound like some shrink or something but that’s basically the type of approach you’ve got to have. It’s just basically looking at it systematically, how I approach the week and not getting too far ahead and build small blocks throughout the week. That’s the best way to be.”
The next step will come, Ryan hopes, this Sunday against the Romanians at Wembley.
Having come off the bench in last Saturday’s 50-7 victory over Canada, the Nenagh man is primed for action and delighted to have come back fitter and faster, improving his speed from 7.8 metres per second to 8.8m, since returning from injury.
“If I get through training this evening I’ll be happy enough but my game is high work-rate and since I’ve been coming back I’ve been very blessed in that my speed has gone up an awful lot which has been great and the fitness has been very good so I’ve been trying to be as aggressive as possible and just basically really enjoying it, getting physical as much as I can. That’s basically it, nothing too complicated anyway.”
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