As with Edith Piaf, Donnacha Ryan has no regrets.
It wasn’t easy at first: getting his phone connected, sorting out bills and accommodation, overcoming the language barrier and dealing with a 10-week layoff almost as soon as he arrived at Racing 92 after injuring his neck in a game against Bayonne.
But he survived all that and the bitingly cold Parisian winter thanks in no small part to Racing 92’s new indoor U Arena where he was pictured sitting on a chair in the middle of the pitch watching Ireland claim the Grand Slam at Twickenham.
Ryan’s last game for his country had been the corresponding fixture 12 months earlier, but then he knew he was more than likely consigning his Test career to the history books when he opted to quit Munster after 13 years and make for the continent.
“It was funny. The background to the story is that I started on the bench (for Racing) that weekend, I just came on at half-time, Racing had really good ideas to keep everyone in the stadium and I was needed by the dope testers so I was waiting to be drug tested.
“I was mad to watch the match so why not watch it on the pitch? It was great watching them win, well, hammer, England in Twickenham. I said to the lads during the week they were going to hammer them.
“They are so well drilled, they always are in the last couple of years. They always seem to get better as they get used to each other. It’s great. You’d always love to be playing for Ireland. As a supporter, knowing all the lads, I was delighted to see them win a Grand Slam.
“It was definitely a massive achievement.” And what of his own path less travelled?
“I suppose I made a lot of sacrifices in life to be able to play for Ireland and play for Munster as long as I had,” he said. “Having moved over here, Munster are so well respected. It was a personal decision and I’m really enjoying it.
“Rugby is only one part of my life, I want to explore other avenues outside it as well. You’d love to play for Ireland forever, but it has to end sometime. It’s good to come here and have a different perspective.” His dealings with Munster have been part of that.
Facing the province in Paris last January was “surreal’, he said at the time, but he was intrigued to experience the whole Munster thing from the opposite trench even if it only cemented his belief that they are a top-class and hard-working side.
Ryan, having missed the first pool meeting between the sides in October thanks to that injury, was pivotal to the French side’s win in the return in January, his steal from a late restart standing out as a crucial moment in a game that went down to the wire.
And it’s tempting to think that his intimate knowledge of his old side’s lineout strategy could play a significant role in itself when he contests what will be his fourth European Cup semi-final, in Bordeaux, on Sunday.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s an advantage at all, purely on the basis ... all well and good, a lineout is operated as a unit so it’s one thing having all this knowledge, but you can have too much information in games.
“People can get bogged down with the details. Billy (Holland) and the lads are very good at putting options together and the throwers in Munster are world class, I don’t think Billy is going to get too bogged down or start changing too much.” It’s a week when Ryan could overthink things himself.
Facing Munster in the pool stages is one thing, crossing paths with them at this late stage is another. Win and he edges closer to a second European medal, while depriving his home province the opportunity to land a third crown.
He is doing his best to block all that stuff out.
“When you’re outside the training centre, I really wouldn’t have any interaction with rugby at all.
“I do listen to the radio, but they don’t really mention rugby that much. It’s good to be able to chill out — work is work — to be able to enjoy a personal life.
“Switching off has been good for me. I personally would come to Paris to switch off … It’s a different approach. I’m 34 years of age, I’m over here trying to make the most of my rugby career. I’m enjoying playing rugby.
“I’m trying to enjoy the experience of playing in a semi-final. I’ve played in a few of them before and just got pure caught up in the emotion of the pressure. It’s an invisible pressure that is generally in your head.” No regrets. Whatever happens.
Rugby Podcast: Ronan O’Gara, Donal Lenihan and Simon Lewis on the Champions Cup semi-finals. Plus travel agent Pat Dawson on the plight of the fans.
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