Ireland Under-20 captain James Ryan insists his burgeoning reputation is bottom of his concerns as he prepares to tackle Jason Strange’s Grand Slam winning Welshmen in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester.
Nigel Carolan’s side meet their Welsh counterparts at the Manchester City Academy Stadium on June 7, before Pool A clashes with reigning champions the Baby Blacks on June 11 and newcomers Georgia Under-20 on June 15.
Standing 6’8”and weighing 108kg, Ryan drew praise from all-corners for his imperious Under-20 Six Nations form, but the Leinster lock downplayed comparisons with recently retired Irish legend Paul O’Connell, focussing instead on Wales Under-20.
“The expectations don’t weigh down on me, we are playing on a world stage here, so you have to expect that and I have to do my role,” the 19-year-old said.
“I am just a cog in the wheel and if we get a good team performance on Tuesday, we’ll take it from there.
“It is humbling to be compared to Paul O’Connell, but I try to ignore all that and just focus on what I, and we, have to do.”
Though Ireland fell 35-24 to eventual Grand Slam champions Wales Under-20s in their opening encounter of this year’s championship, Ryan believes his side can topple Jason Strange’s side .
New Zealand Under-20 lie in wait in Pool A, but the young skipper refused to look past the Welsh.
“The Welsh are a terrific side, a big physical team, if we want to get a result there we have to be at the top of our game, but we’re confident with the team we have named and we’re looking forward to that,” he said.
“They will be full of confidence and so they should be, they are Grand Slam champions, so for us to come out on top we just have to give it everything and we have to be accurate in terms of our play.
“When we get opportunities, we need to take them.
“There’s a lot of good players there, Adam Beard in the second-row is very good, they have a good scrum-half, there is a lot of talent in that team, I think if we focus too much on what they’re bringing then we will forget about ourselves.
“The New Zealand Under-20s is a clash we are looking forward to, but they are all big Tests and Wales first up is a massive one for us.”
Over half of the games will be broadcast on Sky Sports and games will be played at both Manchester City’s Academy Stadium and Sale Sharks’ AJ Bell Stadium, while more than 370 full internationals have come through the World Rugby Under-20 Championship since its 2008 inception.
With Ireland’s Conor Murray and Kiwis Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane and Ryan among the tournament’s alumni, Ryan admits the gilded passage to full international honours is a powerful motivation.
He said: “It does motivate you that the pathway is so clear, it is encouraging for myself and the other participants in the tournament, but that is a bit down the line yet and right now this is a big stage and I am not really thinking too far ahead yet.”
See the Future Stars of Rugby at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester this June. For more information, including how to buy tickets, visit http://www.englandrugby.com/u20championships/#WorldRugbyU20