The best has yet to come! That’s the view of Munster prop John Ryan as he enthuses about CJ Stander’s man-of-the-match performance for Ireland against Wales last Sunday and now avidly looks forward to another “blinder” from the South African in Paris tomorrow.
Having helped CJ to work on his singing of the national anthem and been pleasantly surprised at how well he did, Ryan confidently expected an outstanding display against Wales. He wasn’t disappointed but believes this is only the start of really great things for his provincial captain.
“He will definitely grow more in an Irish jersey,” Ryan declared. “That was only his first game. The pressure was on him, he had to produce and got that man-of-the-match award. He works very hard and trains very hard. And when he’s on the pitch, and it’s a very bruising encounter, he will still have the same consistency as if it was a more open game. He’ll still have those 20 carries, 23 at the weekend.
“He’s been the stand-out player in the country for the past six months. He might have been surprised at being picked but at the back of his mind, he knew he earned it.
“CJ has had to speak up a lot more since becoming captain but he leads by example and so doesn’t have to say that much. He’s been taking a lot more responsibility on the training field, taking on the Paul O’Connell role and that’s where I have seen him grow in the last few months.”
While Stander is recovering from what is certain to be another bruising encounter at the Stade de France on the previous day, Ryan will be doing all he can to ensure a Munster victory over the Ospreys at Musgrave Park on Sunday. He hopes the breather the squad enjoyed last week after four months of almost non-stop action will help the cause.
“Last week was a welcome week off after 17 in a row,” Ryan acknowledged. “Now we have two big games, against Ospreys and Glasgow, there is a gap between us and them and we’re fighting to get into the top four.”
Ryan will be lining out at tight-head on Sunday but doesn’t seem entirely sure where exactly in the front row he wants to play.
“At the moment I’m tight head, I really like it because it’s a massive challenge,” he mused. “I’m still only learning even though I’ve been playing it for a few years. Last year I played loose head predominantly, the year before that tight, the year before that loose. I’m tight for now but won’t be ruling out the other side.
“With BJ Botha ruled out, it creates another opportunity. I’ll be delighted if I can get a run of starts and build on my performances, trying to hold the scrum steady and try and build on that and be more of an attacking tight head, like BJ. That’s the plan anyway, to keep improving. I’m 27, and they say that’s a good time for a prop.”
Like just about everyone involved with Munster, John Ryan regards it as a great privilege to have pulled on the red jersey in the same dressing room as Paul O’Connell.
“It’s a great honour to have played with him,” he enthuses. “I remember my first game with him, a trial match. I was in UCC at the time and he came up to me and said ‘I’m Paul O’Connell’ — just a very modest fella.
“Everyone learned so much from him Every time he was behind me in a scrum, I felt him. He was a bit of an animal, himself and Donncha, there were no excuses when they were behind you. Those standards will live on in Munster.”
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