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England v Ireland: James Ryan could leave Andy Farrell with huge captain's call

Leinster lock thrown in at deep end to lead Ireland at Twickenham

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Learning curve: James Ryan will captain Ireland on Saturday before he has captained his province

Learning curve: James Ryan will captain Ireland on Saturday before he has captained his province

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Learning curve: James Ryan will captain Ireland on Saturday before he has captained his province

Given how James Ryan played for Ireland before he had lined out for Leinster, it is quite fitting that he will captain his country before having done so with his club.

It's a remarkable achievement really, yet it is also one which is not in any way surprising.

Growing up, Ryan captained every team he was on, and while he hasn't yet been given the responsibility with Leinster, much like it has been with Ireland, it is merely a matter of time.

When Rory Best retired after last year's World Cup, Andy Farrell was faced with a big decision as to who would take over as the country's skipper.

Johnny Sexton was the obvious candidate, especially having been named Leinster captain, but Ryan was a realistic alternative, especially if Farrell wanted to fully wipe the slate clean and build for the future.

Sexton deserved his chance in the hot seat and, from Farrell's point of view, it made sense not to rush Ryan into the role, as he was still getting to grips with becoming more of a pack leader and running the lineout.

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Johnny Sexton is ruled out of the England clash

Johnny Sexton is ruled out of the England clash

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Johnny Sexton is ruled out of the England clash

However, Farrell's agreement with Sexton is that the captaincy will be reviewed on a campaign-by-campaign basis, and although first Tests don't come much tougher than a trip to Twickenham, should Ryan pass with flying colours, then the Ireland head coach will be left with another huge call ahead of next year's Six Nations.

This is not about rushing Sexton out of a job, nor should it be, but the 35-year-old's latest injury problem has served as another reminder that his body is not as reliable as it once was.

It remains to be seen how realistic it is to expect Sexton to lead Ireland at the next World Cup in France come 2023.

Instead, it is far more likely that Ryan will be the man in situ, which is what makes his first start as Ireland captain all the more fascinating.

The 24-year-old has had to quickly find his voice at this level, especially considering he has never been the kind of leader who would have players hopping off the walls on the back of a rousing speech.

Ryan has always preferred to lead by his actions, but he is part of a quieter new crop of players, who must learn to speak up when the time is right.

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There was no big song and dance made when, during the leadership group's meeting, Farrell told Ryan that he would captain against England on Saturday.

The lock did his best to play it down but, behind it all, he knows how much of a big deal it really is. He wouldn't be human if he wasn't nervous because, as well as everything else going on, he has to quickly get up to speed with the extra responsibilities that come with being captain.

Top of that list will be how Ryan engages with referees.

It's not always an easy task, particularly when things aren't going your side's way, so Ryan will very much have to learn on the job.

He got a taste of what those dealings can be like when Sexton was forced off injured last week, but it was clear Peter O'Mahony also played a key role in the decision-making.

Ryan will, of course, rely on the experience of teammates like O'Mahony, while Iain Henderson and CJ Stander have also captained their respective provinces plenty of times.

Everything was going Ireland's way against Wales, so as introductions to international captaincy go, it was an ideal starting point.

England at Twickenham with a French referee is a completely different beast altogether. Pascal Gauzere is the man in the middle on Saturday, and if Ireland don't paint enough clear pictures for him, especially at scrum time, then Ryan will quickly find himself in the deep end.

After Saracens demolished Leinster at the set-piece, England are sure to go after Ireland.

At times recently, Ireland have had a tendency to go for the corner rather than take the three points on offer, but that 'bravery', as Sexton has called it, hasn't always paid off.

In Paris a few weeks ago, when Sexton turned down a kickable shot at goal, he had a very brief conversation with Ryan, who was calling the lineout at the time.

That situation called for a strong voice to question whether or not it was the right decision, particularly given the circumstances Ireland were in,

It's all part of the learning curve for Ryan, but he is about to find himself in a situation whereby others will be looking to him to be that calm head.

England v Ireland

Twickenham, Saturday, 3.00pm


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