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Opinion

Is James Ryan top of the locks?

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Roar Guru
20th December, 2020
104
1457 Reads

The eighth efficacy look in my series puts young Irish lock James Ryan under the microscope.

As a reminder, I have rated every involvement in one Test match by Matt Philip, Guido Petti, Rob Simmons, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Bakkies Botha, and Maro Itoje as positive, neutral, or negative.

I take each involvement as if it is alone in the universe; a vacuum. So, if a lock steals a lineout, or makes a dominant tackle, I don’t downgrade it just because the halfback stuffs up the resulting turnover.

We have seen a rate of involvement per minute range from 0.61 per minute (Tuipulotu) to 1.1 (Botha), with Itoje (0.9) and Philip (0.84) also quite busy.

I’ve only run the ruler over eight, but the average is 0.8/minute, thus far. I’ve started to develop work-rate tiers (assuming the positive-to-negative ratio is healthy).

0.5-0.59: Test pretender
0.6-0.69: journeyman
0.7-0.79: Test animal
0.8-0.89: starter when healthy
0.9-0.99: MOTM territory
1.0-1.09: star
1.1 and up: legend

The players with the best positive percentage thus far were:

Petti 42.5 percent
Botha 35 percent
Philip 32 percent

So, how did Ryan fare in the match I selected (Ireland versus France in the 2020 Six Nations)? Very well.

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Ryan is a fluid power athlete. He is slim-hipped, wide shouldered, long-limbed, and well-conditioned.

I was impressed most by his forceful tackling, but also, his clean-outs and carries.

Ryan produced the second-busiest Test I’ve watched in this series: 0.95 involvements per minute, only lagging Botha’s brutal masterpiece in the 2007 World Cup final.

He also finished second in positive percentage (38 percent), with a tidy 2.5 percent negative (29-36-2 in 77 total involvements over 81 minutes). His first and second halves totals differed by only one involvement.

I divide the match into eight ‘Chukkas’ to allow benchmarking. Ryan went 5-9-9-11-8-9-8-8, a stamina constancy rivalled only by Botha. He does not play in surges. Ryan is more of a PSDT-type player who sweats profusely, and pushes himself to the limit.

In this match, both teams had a small chance of overtaking England to win the tournament. Ireland had to win, with a bonus point. France won, but not by enough (they needed to smash Ireland). A lot was on the line. The Stade de France was cavernously empty.

If Ryan wanted to look forward to the Lions tour, he had two Saffas opposite, behemoth Paul Willemse, who has lost eight kilograms to be 124 kg, and Bernard le Roux.

(He also had two Western Cape boys with him, in CJ Stander and Rob Herring). Now, the French locks weren’t good enough to be Boks, but still, they were big enough, in a 926 kg pack. So, flat-bellied Ryan would have a lot of braai bouef to move at the ruck.

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First Chukka (five involvements)
It couldn’t have started worse. Ryan spilled the kickoff.

Positive: he made two dominant tackles; this was a theme.
Neutral: he made two carries up into the teeth of the Frog pack.
Negative: he dropped the kickoff!

Second Chukka (nine involvements)
Positive: one of his fast rush tackles caused a knock on, he bounced a French defender at 18:08 to continue a drive to score, and latched Cian Healy over to help him dot down (after he called the play).

Neutral: Ryan took a clean lineout at 10:30, pressured a kick, cleaned three rucks, and finished at 19:45 with a hard clear out.

Third Chukka (nine involvements)
Ryan flew around the park in this period, even if he started at 2-defence off openside rucks. He lost a boot. Ireland took a 10-7 lead, but then gave up a penalty try for an early tackle by C. Doris.

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Positive: Ryan chased a kick and tackled live wire DuPont. He made two hard carries over the gainline, causing French infringements.

He made a lovely clean out at 24:10. He scrambled way back to make a tackle (at 29:30) to no avail.

Neutral: He pressured a lineout, took another, drove a maul, and attended a ruck.

Fourth Chukka (11 involvements)
Long scrum resets and a painfully slow penalty goal by Ntamack chewed up several minutes, yet Ryan was frenetic, and drenched.

Positive: Ryan made a superb clean on the French No 8, made it over the gainline at 31:15, winning a goal, took a tough aerial restart, made a dominant tackle, a monster clean, and finished with a penetrating run.
Neutral: He made two settling carries, attended two rucks, and steered a maul.

Fifth Chukka (eight involvements)
Ireland lost its way in this period (going down 13-22) but not due to Ryan (or a paucity of possession).

Positive: Ryan chased and tackled, caused a skew French lineout, stopped and sacked a maul legally at 46:04, pirouetted to a five-metre carry, and messed up another French lineout.

Neutral: He carried, cleaned, and tackled, properly.

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Sixth Chukka (nine involvements)
Positive: Ryan took a lineout under severe pressure, carried hard close to the try line, dominated MOTM Aldritt in a tackle, and a minute later erased a French prop carrier.

Neutral: he tackled low, rucked twice, and took easy lineouts at 54:00 and 59:05.

Seventh Chukka (eight involvements)
This is the point at which many of our big locks fade (and go off, like Simmons and Tuipulotu), or if they need to go the full 80, slow down. Ryan went the same speed all game.

Positive: Ryan was first to rush and tackle, and again dominated the man mountain prop.

Neutral: He took a restart without a lifter, showed up at two rucks, made a hard clean, and took a lineout.

Negative: He lost a lineout, by being too passive.

Eighth Chukka (eight involvements)
Ireland never gave up, despite being down 20-35 at one point. They scored the last try.

Positive: Yet another dominant tackle, and then (at 73:40) a snot-knocking blast tackle.

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Neutral: Two lineout takes, a contest, two carries in tight, and a ruck.

If Ireland had stopped one of the French miracle tries, and scored a penalty, and won a thriller again, Ryan would’ve deserved MOTM.

As it was, I found him very rugged, fast to rucks, decisive in collisions, and full of fire. The Lions are stocked, with Ryan, Itoje, AWJ, and picking from Launchbury, Gray, and Lawes.

His performance was the second best I’ve seen so far.