Cian Tracey: 'Mature Ryan the stand-out candidate to be next captain'

Ireland never fired a shot in Tokyo. Instead, they handed the All Blacks a free pass to the final four.

This new era for Irish rugby demands new leaders. Chief among the many challenges that Andy Farrell faces over the coming months is picking a new captain.

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You could make the case for a couple of players, but there is one outstanding candidate.

James Ryan may not have the experience of Johnny Sexton or Peter O’Mahony, who will both feel that they have justifiable claims to take over from Rory Best, but Ryan is an Ireland captain in waiting.

It is only a matter of time before he is handed the responsibility and given how important he will be to Ireland at the next World Cup, the lock should be at the head of the queue.

Sexton (34) is unlikely to be in the mix for France 2023, while O’Mahony (30) will also be up against it. As much as Farrell may want a steady hand for his first Six Nations as head coach, it is time to build for the future.


After Saturday’s drubbing in Tokyo, Ryan fronted up, which is more than you can say about the majority of his team-mates.

Although the 23-year-old has captained every team he has played on coming up through the ranks, he has generally been a man of few words off the pitch as he prefers to let his rugby do the talking.

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There have been signs over the last five weeks that he is finding his voice however, as his dealings with the media in Japan would suggest.

As well as that, Ryan was introduced to the main leadership group within the squad, which is a sure sign that his stature is rising.

Earlier this year, Brian O’Driscoll backed O’Mahony to take over as skipper as he believed there was no need to fast-track Ryan into the role.

In 2002, O’Driscoll became the youngest Ireland captain since Rob Saunders led the country against France in 1991 and interestingly, he felt he was too young.

But this feels like the right time for Ryan. He is already hugely respected by his team-mates at Leinster and Ireland, and he is the ideal player to build the team around for the next World Cup.

With the current World Cup still having another two weeks to run, it may seem crazy to be talking about the next four years, but Farrell is already planning ahead.

The incoming boss has seen what Ryan is like over the last couple of years, and the potential for further growth makes the proposition even more tempting.

By the time Ryan had emerged to speak with the media following the defeat to the All Blacks, he was still in his muddy shorts and socks.

It can’t have been easy to compose himself but Ryan managed to do so and putting the raw emotion to one side, he spoke of what he believes will be a brighter future.

“We’ve had some brilliant wins with this group, and I know the last year has been tough because there have been some losses there which aren’t really good enough,” Ryan said.


“The effort is there but the results probably aren’t being produced at the moment. I think it is there.

“Playing for Ireland means absolutely everything to me, everything to the lads.

“We’re incredibly proud to be Irish. When you looked into the stands, there were so many green jerseys, the number of Irish people who travelled. I think there are great days to come.”

The good times seem like some way off, especially considering the transitional period Ireland are about to embark on.

Amidst the doom and gloom are rays of light, however, and Ryan is at the forefront of that.

Farrell doesn’t need to rush into any decisions just yet, but when the time comes to making them, handing Ryan the captaincy looks like a wise move that could pay dividends further down the line.

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