Keith Wood on "phenomenon" James Ryan: "He reminds me of Maro Itoje"

He and Ruaidhri O'Connor review the Champions Cup final and look ahead to Pro 14 semi final derby

BY Raf Diallo 3 days ago, 20:26 16 May 2018

England's Maro Itoje and James Ryan during a line out ©INPHO/James Crombie

Last Saturday in Bilbao, Leinster reached the European pinnacle for the fourth time when they beat Racing 92 in the Champions Cup final.

But there's no resting on the laurels, with Leo Cullen's side straight back into a Guinness Pro 14 semi final against great rivals Munster this Saturday afternoon.

So this week on Wednesday Night Rugby, former Ireland captain Keith Wood and the Irish Independent's rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor joined us to look back at Leinster's achievement and to cast an eye to a weekend that will mean much to themselves and Munster.

Keith feels the "better team" won in Bilbao and that Leinster were "the better team for the whole year" across Europe. 

"I think what those Leinster players have managed to do this year off the back of a load of them being involved in the Grand Slam, it's been pretty damn impressive. They backed it up very well," he said. 

He also reserved plenty of praise for James Ryan, who has yet to lose a game of professional rugby for club or country in his fledgling career, earning Champions Cup and Six Nations Grand Slam winning medals at the age of just 21.

"It's going to be very hard for him to keep his standard all the time at that level. He'll probably go higher and he'll go lower a couple of times as well, so we'll need a little bit of patience with him. He's been a phenomenon this year. He reminds me of Maro Itoje and his statistics are incredibly similar from when Itoje came on the scene," he said, adding that he would like to see Ryan given more rest than Itoje has had this year to allow him to thrive and avoid fatigue. 

Looking ahead to Saturday's clash, Keith is also expecting an exciting game between two sides with different things to prove.

"I think it'll be a cracking game. I think there'll be more to it than we saw in the final actually, partly to do with weather, partly to do with personnel and I think it will be closer," he said.  

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