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Ireland v Italy Six Nations: Donnacha Ryan's Irish race could be run thanks to rising star

By David Kelly

Perhaps there might have been an inkling of resentment in Donnacha Ryan's bones as he watched a nascent superstar gambolling gazelle-like for the English try-line in Twickenham 12 days ago.

Everyone is famous for 15 minutes, we were told once, but Ultan Dillane's 15-minute cameo is a foretaste of things to come - he is likely to start on Saturday against Italy at the Aviva and Ryan, who he replaced the last day, is the likely fall guy.

Dillane represents an exciting future and those with the past accelerating in their rear-view mirror are often not minded to look kindly upon such youthful brio. At least, that was Ryan's experience when he strode enthusiastically in the footsteps of so many gnarled Munster veterans.

Donncha O'Callaghan wrote of his seething resentment from the bench as others borrowed his starting place; himself and Ryan weren't the best buddies when the latter first emerged as a threat.

Their friendship hardened but only because Ryan decamped to the back-row; having got on famously with incumbents Denis Leamy and Alan Quinlan, that warmth cooled, too. A different breed.

The Munster pack wouldn't share their most coveted trade secrets with a direct rival, perhaps, but their stead­fast, ceaseless will to compete for the red jersey bequeathed arguably the most important lesson of all.

Ryan is 32 now and the nature of the sport has aged with him; Munster's fiercely internecine rivalry was suffi­cient unto their days of conquering Europe but the model would never fit Ireland. A different need.

A new, united direction; one for all, all for one, empathy, kindness and apple pie. Even now, the entire squad shake hands and bid each other morning to start the day.

On the outside, it must feel like sharing a house - or, rather, an historic mansion - with the extended clan of Ned Flanders.

"When I was younger coming into a Munster pack I wasn't taken under anyone's wing at all, you had to fight for your own corner and that's how you earn your stripes," says Ryan easily. "But you get to a level of maturity where I get a kick out of sharing my experience over the years having learned from the best in the world, like Paul O'Connell.

"And Ultan is a good natured guy. If he wants to learn all you can do is give him the information, it's up to him whether he accepts it or not and at the moment he's been very forthcoming and it's great to train with him."

Ryan's recent toil - he shudders when the word injury passes your lips - has also inured him against the scepticism of yore; facing the end of your profession can inject humility when it comes to assessing one's rivals.

"I wouldn't be as cynical as that any more to be honest," he says, and 18 months of anguished absence from the sport infuses that honesty.

"I would try to help anyone and if it drives my standard as well, it's up to me to drive my standard the whole time as well.

"I do not know it all and I have a constant thirst for knowledge every day. I go out and train under tremen­dous coaches.

"The level of intensity in training is fantastic so it's up to me to find ave­nues and ways to progress. It all feeds the collective. It's great to be competitive in going for the same slot, but you have to have that team spirit.

"There's talk about a lack of lead­ership but that's what the lads have done. We have tremendous team spirit in the group and that's fantastic to be around."

As for Dillane after his vivacious vignette in SW London, Ryan insists there is more to come from the latest of a select - but distinguished - band of Kerrymen to play for Ireland.

"He's a tremen­dous athlete. He's at that age where he's mad to get in there but you can always realise that you have to know the technical component and the framework you're working within.

"He's soaking up every bit of knowl­edge that he can and he's going to be a fantastic player for his country. He's a fantastic guy, lovely fella. Just a great personality. Very positive. Unbelieva­bly humble.

"We have a very eager squad," he signs off. "Trying to take a bigger step than the last one. Mad to perform."

Belfast Telegraph


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