Donnacha Ryan would clearly rather have been in the thick of the action at Murrayfield last week rather than helping his team-mates prepare to face Scotland as a travelling reserve.
Yet having not made the matchday squad for last Saturday’s opening match of the 2017 Six Nations, the Ireland second row was determined to be a positive influence on those around him.
To the in-form Munster forward, the reasons for his absence from the Ireland 23 are academic, though the way he negotiated the pre-match warm-up in Edinburgh gave little hint of the medial knee ligament niggle that head coach Joe Schmidt cited as the reason for not considering him.
All that matters to the 33-year-old on the eve of his 42nd test cap in Rome against Italy tomorrow is that he continues to make a positive contribution to Ireland’s cause.
“It was just the way it is,” Ryan said yesterday of last week’s non-selection. “Joe probably felt that with the way it was going, I could offer the best cover as 24th man. That’s what I was asked to do.”
Did he feel fit enough to start? “I suppose we’ll never know now. It doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, from my point of view this week, just get on with it. I’m in great shape so luckily I got the nod this week. Hopefully, I can put in a good performance.”
Schmidt missed Ryan’s abrasiveness and lineout smarts against the Scots and has brought him back to the starting line-up at the expense of Iain Henderson, who has dropped out of the squad with a slight hamstring strain but might have been replaced regardless.
“Donnacha is a pretty good lineout operator,” Schmidt said yesterday as he explained his team selection. “He is a real technician in that area and a tactician. He has a great work-rate as well so we feel we will need those things this weekend.”
Ryan’s inclusion reunites him with Devin Toner in a second-row combination that served Ireland with distinction during the autumn tests, both locks excelling in the victory over New Zealand in Chicago last November.
To be omitted from the first game of the 2017 Championship, then, should provide an extra edge to his performance tomorrow.
“Yeah, I was going well with Dev. I’m more a realist now, when you’ve been dropped so many times at this stage you’re not really... I am disappointed but you’re not as sour or, you know, you can be miserable about it around your family or you can be ‘what’s the next positive thing I can do?’
“No one wants to hang around with someone who’s feeling sorry for themselves.
“My point of view is to keep a positive outlook, keep training, and keep getting better. I know from the other end, you’ve got to be ready to get in there.
“At the end of the day, if you’re relying on emotions week to week, you wouldn’t be in a healthy state of mind.
“You realise, never get too high, never get too low, and when you are brought in, you can’t be going around bull-headed on the pitch. You still have a professional level of processes that you have to do when you hit the pitch and not let the emotional side of things override that.”
Ryan refuses to accept he is currently in some of the best form of his career, admitting only: “I’m enjoying playing at the moment. It’s great. Munster have had an interesting year, to say the least. Look, it’s been good. I’m enjoying it, injury-free.
“Ever since I’ve been trying to get back to that level of fitness after being out for a while, I’m just getting it back this year. It’s been going okay so far.
“That’s the nature of playing, you can just get knocked out one week and someone else is in the next. I’m enjoying playing at the moment and trying to help as much as I can.
“It is great to get up in the morning and be in a job where you have to try and be better than you were yesterday. It is a great job to have. That’s the challenge.
“That’s why I really enjoy it at the moment. I know I will never get everything right. But, when you get a few miles on the clock, you realise you don’t beat yourself up, persecute yourself like you would have done a lot before.
“I am enjoying it. If you say you’re playing well, you are setting yourself up for a big fall.”
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