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Local knowledge will stand Ireland lock in good stead at Japan World Cup

 

Prize guy: James Ryan with his Player of the Year trophy
Prize guy: James Ryan with his Player of the Year trophy
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

While he's far from the most experienced of the men that Joe Schmidt will be leaning upon at the World Cup next month, James Ryan has one thing that plenty of the older heads in the squad lack - a taste of playing in Japan.

It was there that the star Leinster lock won the second of his 17 Ireland caps, coming off the bench in Tokyo two weeks on from his debut in the USA and before he'd even lined out in a senior Leinster side.

Just two years on from that tour, the 23-year-old is all set to be one of the stars of the tournament and believes that small experience of what for many is an unknown country will stand to him when the side sets off next month for their latest World Cup tilt.

"That tour was great, I loved it," he reflected yesterday after being named Irish Rugby Writers' Player of the Year at the Guinness Storehouse.

"(It's a) mad country. It's certainly different to playing in Europe just in terms of the environment and everything.

"A lot of the work we've been doing so far (in pre-season) has been strength and conditioning because of the heat and the humidity over there, it's something that we're not used to.

"We've been wearing plastic bags for a number of training sessions to kind of lose the body fat, and the days we were doing that were actually kind of hot as well, so the conditions were unpleasant.

"The reason that we've done a lot of that work is to make sure that we have the stamina to excel in those conditions.

"It does (help) a bit, just having that bit of familiarity playing in it and having that bit of experience in that heat and humidity that we did. It's a different time of the year, so the weather could be slightly different, but I think it will stand to us when we get there, certainly having that experience there, certainly with the travel as well.

"We'll be travelling a lot on the bullet trains and we've done a bit of that too, so that should help."

Despite his importance to the side, Ryan is not willing to talk like a squad certainty just yet and admits that the looming cut from the 43 currently preparing for Saturday's warm-up fixture with Italy down to the 31 that will head to Japan gives training something of an edge.

"It's a really competitive squad," he said. "There's so much competition, so the thought process is making sure that when you do get an opportunity in a warm-up game you're putting in a committed and accurate performance, because the competition is so high that there is no certainty for anybody really. So that's my thought process.

"I've given much thought to the fact that you've got to get there first. Hopefully if you put in committed and accurate performances, we'll have a squad that can compete with anybody.

"Playing on a world stage for your nation is where you want to be. It's the dream of any athlete, so if I was picked it would be, I'm sure, an unbelievable experience.

"It's been good so far. It's tough work but it's been enjoyable. Usually we might have a week together before a November window and a Six Nations, but from my experience I've never been in when you get this prolonged period together.

"We've been together for quite a number of weeks now and we've another few to go, so it's exciting in that sense, being able to spend that much time together because hopefully we'll be more cohesive as a result of that.

"So we've got four Test matches coming up, starting with the Italians this weekend, and we've all worked very hard so hopefully we can see that paying dividends."

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