Finding James Ryan

How did Ryan go from shaking the world in 2018 to missing out on the Lions in 2021?

Few players have ever, or will ever, have the breakthrough year (and a bit) enjoyed by James Ryan in 2017/18. Going from his professional debut at test level during the Irish tour to the US in 2017, to becoming a category one-tier player at Leinster a few months later, to becoming a test regular by the end of the Autumn Series, to winning the Grand Slam as a regular starter in March, to winning the Champions Cup in May, to beating the Wallabies in a series in Australia on a summer tour in June, to beating the All Blacks in Dublin in November of 2018.

That is special by any metric and at the highest level of the game, too. In December 2018 the question wasn’t if James Ryan was going to tour with the Lions in 2021 barring injury, it was who’s going to start alongside him in the test second row? In December 2018, James Ryan was the lock and he was a lock for the Lions.

Fast forward to 2021. When the list of names in the convoluted Lions announcement went straight from Andrew Porter to Sam Simmonds – James Ryan’s name conspicuous by its absence – I can’t say I was all that surprised.

How did James Ryan go from being a near cert to start the first test to not even touring? We don’t know how far down the injury standby list James Ryan is at this point in early June 2021 but all we know for certain is that he wasn’t in Gatland’s initial plans. So what happened? That’s when things start to get a little woolly.

One thing that certainly didn’t help Ryan’s perception was that stretch from mid-2017 to late 2018 was something of a high watermark for Ireland with Ryan as a key front-five component. From a pure results perspective, Ireland were dipping quite drastically through the 2019 Six Nations, 2019 World Cup and the pandemic era until, arguably, that win against England this Spring “lifted the siege”, so to speak.

Even from a Leinster perspective, the peak of 2018 hasn’t really been matched at the elite level of the European Cup. Sure, at PRO14 level, Leinster have been lifting trophies consistently but in 2019, 2020 and 2021 Leinster’s pack in general and their front five, in particular, reached a bit of a brick wall against the size and power of Peak Saracens in 2019 and 2020 before enduring the same fate against La Rochelle in this year’s semi-final.

If James Ryan is a core piece of the most important unit on the pitch for Ireland and Leinster – and he is – and both sides have been finding it difficult against the very best sides, that will shape how he is perceived in his primary role when it comes to Lions selection. It also didn’t help that Ireland’s best performance since 2018 came with James Ryan sitting in the stands. That is unscientific, sure, but it counts when it comes to the small percentages here and there that get a guy on the plane on the first ballot.

The difficulty comes in nailing down what James Ryan’s role has become as he’s moved into his mid-20s. It’s important to look at what James Ryan is and is not at this stage in his career. One of the things constantly praised about Ryan are his numbers – carries, tackles and so on – and what that then says about his overall work rate.

This has been a constant in his career and it’s still in his game regardless of the result most of the time.

Defensively, he’s not a guy who tends to hunt rucks or even track the flow of the opposition’s openside phases as an active defender. Since at least 2018, Ryan has tended to be a blindside defender who tracks the general gravity of the ruck as it progresses across the field and he doesn’t tend to fold across the point of the ruck unless circumstances really demand it.

On every set piece starter in the Leinster system, Ryan tends to fold to the blindside while the loosehead lock and openside flanker follow the “flow” of the ruck across the field.

Ryan will step in to cover if there’s an obvious space in the line around the ruck but his role over the last few seasons has been to take a secondary defensive role rather than being an active tracker and hitter. That doesn’t mean that he won’t rack up big defensive numbers if the opposition have a lot of possession and territory – see the recent Ulster game at the RDS where Ryan loaded up on defensive involvements in the absence of Ronán Kelleher – or that he isn’t capable of ruck tracking and hitting but in higher profile games where Leinster are concerned about continuous power output, you’ll see Ryan move to this covering position, as he did against La Rochelle.

James Ryan is a cornerstone of the Leinster front five and he is usually the only part of the front five that plays the full 80 minutes barring injury. As a tighthead lock who’s expected to have a heavy physical output, that poses a problem for Leinster and Ireland. How do you ensure that one of your heaviest front five players stays effective for 80+ minutes?

Well, you find ways to conserve energy wherever you can.

***

Being that heavy option for your team in the second row is an important role.

Since James Ryan first broke through, people have been talking about his ability (and, indeed, his need) to put on KG to play effectively in the position given his long, relatively lean 6’8″ frame.

In May 2020 during the first lockdown, James Ryan stated that he was 113KG which he suggested was his “optimum weight”. When Leinster were putting their team details together in what would have been the return to the post lockdown season in July/August 2020, he was listed at 115KG. As of Six Nations 2021, less than a year after Ryan stated that his optimum weight was 113KG, Ryan is listed at 118KG.

Now the stats on team websites range from pure house of lies stuff – I remember bumping into the supposedly 6’1″ Jack McGrath in the Swan Centre in Rathmines back in 2015 and saw he was the same 5’11 that I was – to flat out propaganda. A friend of mine playing in France once told me that the club owner wanted 5cm and 5KG added to everyone’s listed weight so that the opposition would be intimidated stepping onto the field if they looked them up beforehand on the official club site.

What can we take from this? Well, that I’m actually 6’1″ and should list myself as such but mainly that you can’t fully trust guys listed weight and height.

Yet even if those KG listings are unreliable, it’s clear that James Ryan has been putting on significant KG in muscle mass over the last four years. Here he is playing Argentina in the 2017 Autumn Internationals, the same season he would help power Ireland and Leinster to the highest honours available to them that year.

Here’s James Ryan as of last week in the build-up to Leinster’s game against Glasgow in the Rainbow Cup. Even if we take the listed weights with a wheelbarrow of salt, it’s pretty clear that Ryan has been putting on the kind of bulk that is a necessity in the second row these days, especially in the role that Ryan has settled into as a full senior professional.

Not every player who slots into the second row these days has to be a monster. Tadhg Beirne, for example, does just fine as a half-lock style build and he’s 6’6″/113KG but my point is that someone has to be that heavyweight hitter. You can’t survive at the top end of European or test rugby without that archetype in your pack. With that comes a need for weight – almost more than height, even though the two qualities are often linked – and that weight has been shown to be valuable at the top end of European rugby. Look at Will Skelton at La Rochelle and Saracens, the Arnold brothers/Joe Tekori at Toulouse, Johnny Hill and Jonny Gray at Exeter – all of these players are 120KG plus.

Peak Saracens used to love using Kruis and Skelton as a matchday pair of tighthead locks in their peak of 2019. George Kruis (6’6″/123KG) would be the heavy support forward build for 50/60 minutes with Skelton coming off the bench as a 6’8″/140KG power forward. Maro Itoje (6’5″/115KG) was the 80 minute player in that pack construction as a loosehead lock generally (both for Saracens and in England’s build at the time) and a 4/6D Lock specifically.

So there’s a correlation between trophy-winning and top-end size/weight in the second row. Finding players that can fit into those roles – which are overall scheme dependent but size is usually a common denominator – is an incredibly important part of any side with trophy-winning ambitions. So, when James Ryan emerged in 2017 as a player every bit as good as the hype around him as a schools and U20 player suggested he could be, I think Leinster and Ireland were faced with a bit of a dilemma – where do we specialise this guy?

Essentially, I think the thought process was “can we develop this talented young player into a 120KG tighthead lock?”. It makes so much sense on paper, from a general usage perspective and contractually. Good locks with top-end size, power and weight are like hen’s teeth in the modern game. They are consistently top of the charts for wages for a very good reason – not that many people, never mind rugby players, are 6’6″ and up, 115KG plus athletes capable of the kind of physical output required by a dedicated tighthead lock at the highest level of the game. When a guy with Ryan’s height comes along with his raw athletic base and rugby IQ, deciding that he’s going to be your tighthead lock archetype just makes sense. You just load as much KG as you can onto him and allow him to become your 80-minute cornerstone, like Alun Wyn Jones for Wales or Paul O’Connell for Munster and Ireland in the latter part of his career.

Contractually, it allows you to nail down a central contract tier player early and then rotate other players around him in Leinster’s back five. Guys like Toner, Fardy, Ruddock, Molony, Murphy and latterly Ryan Baird are guys you can slot in around James Ryan depending on the particulars of the opposition.

All of these players offer something a little bit different in those roles.

  • Toner is a lineout specialist, a good maul defender and a physical offensive ruck tilted support forward who is degrading in performance at this stage of his career.
  • Fardy is another heavy support forward, half-lock style build with good hands, a very aggressive breakdown game and excellent lineout fundamentals who, again, is degrading in the last year of his career.
  • Ruddock is usually a back-row component but he offers a great all-around game with strong power-forward tendencies.
  • Ross Molony is a hard-working, very mobile support forward build lock with good defensive application and a high IQ even if he does lack top-end power.
  • Josh Murphy has the size to play in the second row but I think he’s best as a roving defensive hitter with strong lineout fundamentals. I expect his role to increase in Fardy’s absence next season.
  • Ryan Baird has, in theory at least, the highest ceiling of all these players as a ball-carrying lock but he’s still very much a work in progress with regards to his overall in-game IQ and his consistency. The power is there, which is important, but it’s a different type of power than what James Ryan is expected to produce.

With this supporting cast, Leinster can build pretty good back five combinations across an 80-minute spread. It makes sense for Ryan to be the centrally contracted player out of this group as he is the “best” player and the only proven tighthead lock role specialist out of the group. When James Ryan emerged as a 21-year-old as a fully-fledged test tier second row, it was an easy bet to make that his effectiveness would scale up as he added weight to his frame. If it worked, you have a home-grown, test-tier, captain-quality player who can play in one of the toughest, highest value positions on the field for the next 10 years with a bit of luck with injury.

Ireland and Leinster needed James Ryan to be a heavier, tighthead lock role player so that’s what he seems to have set about becoming.

***

Conserving energy for a player heading towards that 120KG mark is important if they are to be an 80-minute player.

A guy like Will Skelton, for example, is close to an 80-minute player for La Rochelle depending on the game so, to conserve his energy, he doesn’t jump in the lineout or load up on too many offensive ruck entries. La Rochelle need him to be a heavyweight scrummager, impact defender, mauler and a power forward ball carrier so they all him to do just that. He doesn’t need to jump in four or five offensive lineouts, be lifted as a counter-jumper or be a guy who makes 30+ ruck entries to play well for La Rochelle, so he focuses on where he is most effective.

When you are building a rugby player every KG you add or take away has a gift and a consequence. Keith Earls has spoken repeatedly about how losing weight allowed him to play with fewer injuries but probably lessened his ability to play effectively as an outside centre as a result. Jacob Stockdale recently spoke about how losing four or five KG a little has helped him. Forwards often speak about the need to maintain and add weight to their frames to be effective.

For players like James Ryan, the key is adding weight to the point that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. More weight means, in theory, more ballast in the scrum and maul with more power on both sides of the ball. The drawbacks are that every extra KG has a calorie cost on the field. Essentially, the heavier you are the more every action on the field has a cost to your overall effectiveness across your time on the field.

An outlier to this would be Alun Wyn Jones, who has recently gone north of 120KG if his listing on the WRU site is to be believed. I say recently because Jones was listed at 118KG during the 2017 Lions tour so that migration above 120KG is relatively recently. Even though he’s heavier than he’s ever been, his usage rate for Wales is still absolutely colossal.

He’s consistently near the top of the charts for attacking and defensive breakdown arrivals, tackles, carries, minutes played and even lineout takes over the course of the Six Nations for Wales. Even then, the first signs of age beginning to catch up with the 35-year-old showed this year as this is the first season for a number of years that he didn’t play 80 minutes in every round of the Six Nations. Jones and Ryan are expected to play similar roles on the field and the demands on each player from a minutes perspective are quite similar too.

  • At 34/35, Alun Wyn Jones has played 32 games/2,282 minutes since the start of the 2019 season and 71% of those games have been for Wales for an overall average of 71 minutes per game.
  • At 23/24, James Ryan, over the same period, has played 36 games/2,400 minutes and 58% of those appearances have been for Ireland for an overall average of 66 minutes per game. Ryan’s minutes average was brought down by early injury exits in two of his games this season. Without those, he would be close to an average of 69 minutes per game.

Both players are bumped by the pandemic Autumn Nations’ Cup/2019 World Cup but I would suggest that Ryan’s usage rate for Ireland and Leinster is in line with what we’d expect for a player in his position and role in an environment where he has his minutes managed. It’s a physically demanding role so he can’t expect to play every game if he’s mostly going to be playing every minute of those games.

For comparison, a guy like Paul Willemse (6’7″/135KG), who plays broadly the same role as Ryan/Jones but in a more demanding club environment that isn’t tied to national minute minding, played 45 games/2,658 minutes for Montpellier and France over the same two-season period but only averaged 60 minutes per game. Willemse, unlike Jones and Ryan, is not expected to be an 80 minute player for club or country so his availability game to game is different.

Availability is quite important when it comes to players in that tighthead lock role. It’s an attritional, physical position that naturally draws injuries so ensuring you don’t push players too far is important. If you’re a guy like James Ryan/Alun Wyn Jones in that role, you’ll play more minutes per game but get a significant number of games off. If you’re a guy like Paul Willemse or Jean Kleyn, you’ll feature in more games, generally speaking, but usually play fewer minutes per game.

So if James Ryan has been playing a large role for Ireland and Leinster and is one of the few players eligible for the Lions playing in that role, how did he miss out on the initial selection?

I would hesitate to say that Ryan has been playing poorly because he hasn’t. He rarely has what I would rate as a one or two-star game for either Leinster or Ireland. I just don’t think he’s playing optimally and I think the quality of his fit in the role he has taken to as a senior professional has something to do with it. If we accept that Ryan has increased in KG and that he is playing full games almost exclusively – he has a 70 minute average per game from this season alone – then we have to look at how he manages the full 80 minutes most games.

In those bigger games where Leinster need to keep Ryan’s physical presence on the field, I think the defensive scheme that I mentioned earlier in the article helps to conserve Ryan’s energy. He doesn’t track the ruck across the field or stay alive on the openside flow of the attacking phase because that is an energy-intensive defensive activity. By floating to the blindside after the set-piece, Ryan provides coverage C+ coverage on most phases. By that I mean, he tends to be outside the lead defender, which is usually Van Der Flier, Connors or Kelleher and that’s for Ireland and Leinster.

During phase play, Ryan balances his game fairly evenly between ball carrying, offensive ruck entries (although he tends to guard a little more than I’d like as late) and tackle/tackle assists.

As Ryan has put on the extra weight – 5KG since May 2020 if we take his own account and the IRFU’s squad page at face value – I feel he’s lost some of the pace and mobility that made him a real unicorn player when he first broke through. Ryan still has the ability to bust through a gap in a straight line when he’s already moving and hit a decent clip for a man his size.

He’s also got a decent pass on him – it’s a really improved part of his game – but it’s his movement from a standing start and off an angle that stuck out to me this season. His cruising speed looks a little slower too but I wouldn’t be able to confirm that without GPS access. I spotted a few sub-par up and downs against La Rochelle and even Glasgow at the weekend where he looked a little sluggish getting back into the line after an involvement.

For me, that apparent drop in pace mainly shows up on his collisions into traffic, where he seems to be hitting up with a little less pop. These are just a few examples from the Glasgow game at the weekend but they were visible against La Rochelle too.

Against La Rochelle, you see some of the same energy conservation in his actions off an attacking lineout – 34-year-old Devin Toner is the second phase forward option – but the quality of Ryan’s involvements dip the longer the sequence goes on.

I’m not trying to sell an idea that Ryan is “overweight” – he isn’t. My point is that his roleset hasn’t really changed since his second year as a professional despite significant changes to his frame. I believe that Ryan is taking on too much of Leinster’s forward output and, as a result, the overall quality of his output has decreased.

Even against Glasgow in a game where (a) he is still nominally looking to impress Warren Gatland during a period where there will be injuries and (b) Glasgow were shithousing, scrapping and disrespecting Leinster all over the field, Ryan looked like he was stretched too thin. This idea that Ryan wouldn’t be bothered with this game before or during it just doesn’t wash with me because that’s not the player I’ve been watching for four seasons now. Bullshitters take games off, especially games where the opposition are putting it up to you while you’re on the field; James Ryan is no bullshitter and Leinster aren’t a club where that kind of spoofing goes on, no matter how many fans try to claim “they don’t care!” to make a loss taste better after the game.

So I mapped all 103 of Ryan’s involvements.

MinuteInvolvementOutcome
00:09Offensive Ruck Guard Positive
02:25Defensive Ruck AttendanceMediocre
03:32 Aborted Lineout ContestNegative
03:57Offensive Ruck Guard Mediocre
04:53 Lineout Lift Positive
06:35Strong Tighthead ScrummagePositive
06:51TackleNegative
07:18 Tackle AssistMediocre
08:06Low Aggression Scrap InvolvementNegative
08:44Full Lineout ContestNegative
08:50Defensive Maul EntryNegative
08:55Defensive Maul EntryNegative
09:29Defensive Maul EntryPositive
09:46TacklePositive
10:08Ineffective Counter RuckNegative
10:58Defensive CollisionMediocre
11:39Defensive CollisionMediocre
13:12Dominant Defensive CollisionPositive
13:43Lineout JumpNegative
13:49Offensive Ruck Guard Mediocre
13:58Ruck Entry Mediocre
14:40 Ruck EntryPositive
16:13Block Line on Kick ExitPositive
18:11Decent Tighthead ScrummagePositive
18:31TackleMediocre
19:58 Charge Down AttemptNegative
20:44Ruck EntryPositive
21:32Ruck Entry Positive
21:39CarryPositive
22:02Ruck EntryMediocre
22:10Ruck EntryPositive
22:29Carry LatchNegative
22:34Carry Negative
22:55Ruck EntryMediocre
23:58Poor Tighthead ScrummageNegative
24:21Charge Down AttemptNegative
24:48Lineout JumpNegative
25:08Carry Positive
25:50Defensive Maul EntryPositive
26:14Ruck Entry Positive
27:58Offensive Maul Entry Mediocre
28:20 Offensive Ruck Guard Mediocre
28:31Offensive Ruck Guard Mediocre
30:33Offensive Ruck EntryPositive
30:48 Offensive Ruck EntryPositive
32:23Walking Around on ScrumNegative
33:33Full Lineout ContestNegative
34:10Tackle Assist Positive
34:18 Tackle and Strip Attempt Negative
35:41Full Lineout ContestPositive
35:43Defensive Maul Entry Positive
35:53Defensive Maul Entry Positive
36:06Defensive Ruck EntryPositive
36:24 Tackle AssistPositive
37:24 Tackle AssistPositive
39: 36 Decent Tighthead ScrummageMediocre
40:00 Tackle Positive
40:00Defensive Maul Entry Positive
40:00Tackle AssistNegative
40:32 Carry Positive
41:00Carry Positive
44:10 Decent Tighthead ScrummageMediocre
44:24Ruck EntryPositive
44:38Ruck GuardPositive
44:55Ruck GuardMediocre
45:12Lineout LiftPositive
45:21TacklePositive
45:49PassPositive
45:57PassPositive
46:37Lineout LiftPositive
48:54Lineout JumpPositive
49:59Tighthead Scrummage Early ShoveNegative
51:49Ruck Entry Negative
52:11Ruck Guard Mediocre
52:26Ruck Entry Positive
53:25Lineout Lift Negative
53:47Aggressive defence of Andrew PorterPositive
54:24Lineout Jump Positive
54:27 Maul Build Negative
54:53Ruck Entry Positive
56:34Solid Tighthead ScrummagePositive
56:52Carry Negative
58:49Strong Tighthead ScrummagePositive
60:31Lineout LiftPositive
60:33Defensive Maul EntryNegative
61:05TackleNegative
62:39Defensive Ruck Entry Negative
65:10Carry Positive
65:28Ruck EntryPositive
67:24Lineout JumpPositive
67:40Ruck GuardPositive
67:44Ruck Guard Mediocre
67:49Carry Negative
68:08Ruck EntryPositive
69:13Full Lineout ContestNegative
71:55Good Tighthead ScrummagePositive
72:49Lineout LiftNegative
74:04Defensive Maul EntryMediocre
76:10Decent Tighthead ScrummageMediocre
76:51Tackle AssistNegative
77:42TacklePositive
77:52TacklePositive
79:11Decent Tighthead ScrummagePositive
79:30Ruck GuardPositive
80:00Ruck EntryNegative

51% positive, 29% negative, 20% mediocre with multiple involvements in all facets of the game.

He had;

  • 8 carries – 62% positive outcome
  • 12 tackles – 50% positive outcome
  • 6 tackle assists – 50% positive outcome
  • 6 counter launches at the lineout – 16% positive outcome
  • 5 lineout jumps – 60% positive outcome
  • 26 offensive ruck arrivals – 61% positive outcome
  • 9 defensive maul entries – 11% positive outcome

When I went back and checked out some of Ryan’s other big games this season, I saw the same kind of pattern. An area of concern for me was the power and go-forward of his scrummaging. It’s hard to quantify individually but I didn’t see as much power coming through on the Leinster tighthead side as I expected to see before going back and checking, if that makes sense? I get it is a subjective observation but when I watch the Toulouse or La Rochelle scrum, their tighthead side isn’t long hopping forward with their size and power at tighthead lock.

By far my biggest issue was the quality of his defensive maul entries, especially against Glasgow but the same things were visible against La Rochelle.

He’s not getting good, strong braces here and then he’s struggling to readjust into positive angles after the initial surge of the maul gets past him. That’s not just in these games, there are elements in it all season for Leinster and at test level, especially when he tends to counter-launch so much.

I think it was these tight forward details combined with a general dip in the overall quality of his output that saw him slide behind Alun Wyn Jones and Jonny Hill in that heavy tighthead lock role depth chart for the Lions.

This isn’t a “drop James Ryan” article. Far from it, actually. I think a successful Ireland side going into the new decade has to include James Ryan but the key for me is managing his output as a heavy tighthead lock going forward, which translates to his role as an 80-minute player. I think getting Ryan to be a 120KG+ athlete is not only sensible, I think it’s the best option for him, province and country going forward as long as his body can handle it without too much stress. If he’s to stay as an 80-minute player, I think tailoring his role to focus on specific outputs rather than staying as a guy who does everything right now.

Do you pare Ryan’s involvement in the ball-carrying rotation back even further next season as Ryan Baird takes on more game time responsibility? Does that free him up to be a heavy support forward with a focus on the breakdown, like a George Kruis? Or do you load up on his ball carrying and impact defending and move his offensive ruck support to being a secondary part of his game?

Is Ryan’s counter-jumping in the lineout is of high enough quality generally to keep it in his game even if it is heavy on energy output and negatively affects his maul defence? It’s a tough one. He is quite good at disrupting possession at the front and middle of the lineout but is it worth him scrambling on maul defence when he doesn’t? If he keeps that in his game, does that mean reducing his offensive lineout role to a secondary jumper to compensate?

Defensively, you could rotate Ryan into a closer, ruck tracking role that forces more movement on him, yes, but that puts him as a constant member of the A/B/C defensive unit – a bit like Alun Wyn Jones – but if we’re managing his energy elsewhere it would be a way to maximise Ryan’s power and size in an area of the game – impact defence – that he’s been consistently good at.

If, next season, we were to see James Ryan generally produce output like this;

  • 4 carries outside the 22 and focus on close-range latch and drives inside the 22.
  • 15 close range tackles at A/B/C
  • 9 tackle assists
  • 0 counter launches at the lineout
  • 4 lineout jumps
  • 30+ offensive ruck arrivals
  • 10 defensive ruck arrivals/counter rucks

… I think it could revitalise him. This isn’t to say that he’s been poor – far from it – but I think the general dip in his performances this season are to do with him still playing like a player a number of KG lighter. I’ve thought this for a while but only going back and looking at multiple games from 2018 on broke it for me. How could Ryan go from being a lock for the Lions to being a player playing for an injury replacement spot?

I think it’s because his role hasn’t evolved enough to maximise his change in weight.

A move to a more focused role is the way forward for James Ryan in my opinion. I think we can sometimes get caught in the idea that a generational talent like Ryan has to be an all-encompassing force of nature. That he has to max out on carries, tackles, ruck entries, lineouts and lineout steals while driving his prop through brick walls. I don’t think he needs to be this player to live up to his potential because the James Ryan of the last two seasons seems to have tried without actually progressing his game.

James Ryan can be the generational talent he is by doing less, and focusing more on specific outputs. Maybe it’s as an impact ball carrier and defender who doesn’t jump in the lineout, maybe it’s as a heavy support forward with an impact defence speciality. Personally, I think it’s the latter with a slight tweak in his lineout work and a strong focus on scrummaging and maul defence but that’s just my opinion based on what I’ve seen.

If Ryan Baird becomes who Leinster think he can be, that would immediately provide some ball-carrying role balance in their front five but a slightly tweaked James Ryan would have huge value for both Leinster and Ireland regardless of Baird’s development. I definitely think that Ryan needs some more work at the scrum and on his maul defence but even if it isn’t a consistent strength of his, he gets good, dominant stops when he’s got the time and angle to get a hit in.

Ultimately, I think a summer off bar two Irish internationals against the USA and Japan wouldn’t be the worst thing for James Ryan, even if he doesn’t change a thing about his role. He’s always seemed to be catching up with his fitness after returning early from his dislocated shoulder during the summer of 2020 so some consistent time away from the rigours of training, match day, recovery would be a positive thing, I think.

James Ryan is a foundational talent and I think his Lions exclusion, as far as we have been made aware, could be solved by something counter-intuitive – doing less.