We can retain Euro title by playing the Leinster way: Ryan
It was always going to be difficult for James Ryan to scale the heights of his first season in the pro ranks, but his own standards have remained high even if results have dropped off.
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Already, he's been crowned Leinster's Players' Player of the Year and this week he was nominated by Rugby Players Ireland for the national award. It's hard to see him being pipped.
The 22-year-old may still be relatively new on the scene, but he's already a world-class lock who has earned the respect of opponents on the biggest stage. Were a Lions Test team being named tomorrow, it is likely that he'd be pairing up with Maro Itoje in the engine room.
The international season may have gone off the rails in spring, but Leinster's return to form last month has helped ease the pain.
Next week, they bid to win their second successive European title and they'll need Ryan to be at his best to get over the line against a quality Saracens outfit.
He is better known now, but even when teams go after him he rises to the challenge.
"It is different to the first year, still loving it, a lot to look forward to over the next few weeks," he said. "First season, you are just kind of thrown into it and you don't know what to expect, at least I knew somewhat what I was in for at the beginning of the pre-season and how challenging it would be and how tough some of the games are.
"It definitely has not become any easier. Some of the games are very tough physically, some more particularly than others, but no, there is nothing that particularly stands out.
"I think even most of the teams last year I would have played against, they have done their homework anyway. I am not really thinking about it, I just focus on my game."
His extraordinary run of wins marked out that first season as special, but this one has been more of a challenge.
In particular, he had to endure a disappointing Six Nations when he kept his own form but was part of a team that lost heavily to England and Wales.
Naturally, the performances in those two games have led to worries about Ireland's capacity to perform at the World Cup. But Ryan is at ease.
"No, I wouldn't be concerned," he said. "You can't afford to dwell on what went wrong too much, you have got to learn from it but you have to park it quickly because if you are living too much in the past, there is no point.
"It was different to last year. Obviously last year was brilliant, winning the Grand Slam. This season didn't quite go our way.
"That's kind of put to bed now. There is a European Cup final to come… I think a review of the Six Nations, there will be plenty of time for that in the summer and there we will push forward."
Ryan played a key role in Leinster's win over Sarries at the quarter-final stage last season, but he is expecting the two-time European champions to be better this time around.
"We're going to have to do better than we did last time," he said.
"But how we'll beat them is how we look to beat any side - playing Leinster rugby.
"That's what we love doing, we love going after teams with our attack, being unpredictable. That's the template for us.
"I think they are better than last year, Billy Vunipola playing for them makes a difference. I think we are better than last year too."