WHILE THERE WERE stutters aplenty across Ireland’s opening Six Nations defeats, there was at least consistency in the form of the line-out to breed confidence for this team’s future prospects.
Paul O’Connell’s arrival as forwards coach, slotting in after Simon Easterby had been dividing time between the pack and defence, has been a success in terms of the sideline set-piece.
“The calling has been good,” O’Connell said yesterday, “the players have been really impressive, the way they take ownership and run the operation. So you’re just trying to facilitate them and help them see what you can see with the benefit of the video. You want them to be able to see it under pressure in a game, see it quickly and call it quickly.”
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As vice-captain and O’Connell’s successor as a leading lock, James Ryan is the man responsible for much of that ‘ownership’ on the playing side.
Ryan was an early casualty in the loss to Wales and missed the clash with France a week later. As he hits his stride in preparations for Sunday’s clash with Scotland, Ryan today welcomed O’Connell’s influence on the set-piece. A case of evolution rather than revolution.
“I think it has improved in this campaign really, which has been great. I wouldn’t say there has been a massive change to the nuts and bolts of our line-out,” says Ryan.
“I think what (O’Connell) has introduced is little small intricacies and just levels of detail that really make a difference at this level, which has been great. Because I think the set-piece has been an area of our game that’s been a real positive for us so far in this campaign between our scrum and line-out.
“So that’s definitely been one real positive we’re taking. It’s an area that we felt, looking back in the autumn, that could have been a bit stronger. So we’re in a good place with that now.”
There are no shortage of competitors vying to join Ryan in the second row these days. The 24-year-old today spoke of Iain Henderson as something of a kindred spirit, Tadhg Beirne has been excellent whether selected in the second or back row and now Ryan’s successor as St Michael’s hottest prospect Ryan Baird has emerged as a devastating weapon that Ireland are keen to put to use.
“He has fitted in seamlessly and looked so powerful whenever he carries he ball,” says Ryan, who has watched Baird develop since the younger man moved schools in third year.
“He was always one of those players that stood out very clearly from an early age. He’s continued in that manner.
“He’s just unbelievably athletic, so quick and powerful and talented so it’s brilliant to have him on board. I think the second row is an area where there is really a lot of depth now in the team.”