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How Ireland’s James Ryan rates South Africa's Eben Etzebeth

By PA
Eben Etzebeth of South Africa arrives prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between South Africa and Scotland at Stade Velodrome on September 10, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Ireland vice-captain James Ryan is determined to impose himself on South Africa’s formidable pack as he prepares to go toe to toe with the world-class talents of Eben Etzebeth.

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Towering lock Etzebeth has recovered from a shoulder injury sustained in the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland in time for Saturday evening’s mouthwatering Paris showdown.

The 31-year-old star will be backed up by an imposing bench comprising a seven-one split of forwards and backs.

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Leinster second row Ryan has “huge respect” for Etzebeth but is fully focused on producing his own big-game performance at Stade de France.

“He’s one of the best locks in the world, definitely, without doubt,” said Ryan. “He’s pretty much the complete second row.

“He’s got a good work rate, a good set-piece player, very good in the air in terms of line-out defence, a great feel for the game. A huge player for them.

“You’ve obviously got huge respect for them but I think big games are about making sure you impose yourself on the game.

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“Respect them and understand their strengths and everything but you’ve got to bring it back to yourself and making sure you get all your bits right so that you can put in a good account of yourself.”

Ireland warmed up for the world champions by confidently dispatching Romania and Tonga in bonus-point drubbings to stretch their winning streak to 15 matches.

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Andy Farrell’s men have won 27 of their past 29 Tests, including November’s 19-16 success over the Springboks in Dublin.

Ryan is braced for by far the biggest challenge of Ireland’s Pool B campaign and admits there is increased pressure and an extra edge during the build-up.

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“It’s obviously just a big step up,” said the 27-year-old.

“They’re the reigning world champions, we have a huge amount of respect for them and we know we’ve got to really step it up this week.

“There’s that added little pressure that comes with the week but we’re very excited.

“Getting to play the world champions in Paris, Stade de France, World Cup week, 30,000 Irish supporters in the stadium, it is very exciting. It’s a cool week to be involved in.

“There’s an added bit of edge all week but at the same time it’s just an amazing opportunity.”

Ryan appears to be in line to succeed the retiring Johnny Sexton as Ireland skipper following the tournament in France.

Fly-half Sexton has begun the competition in record-breaking form and last weekend became his country’s all-time leading points scorer.

Springboks Ireland South Africa
Tadhg Furlong of Ireland is tackled by Eben Etzebeth of South Africa during the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ryan believes the longevity of his 38-year-old skipper is “pretty ridiculous”.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season, a URC game or if it’s the World Cup final, he just shows up every week with the same competitive spirit,” said Ryan.

“He just wants to get better and he wants everyone else to get better.

“He is an unbelievable leader and he makes a big difference to the team when he’s in there.

“He probably is a little bit of an inspiration. He’s 38 and to be playing in a World Cup at fly-half at 38 and to be playing as well as he is, it is pretty ridiculous.

“I’m going to get a bit of a slagging for this because I’m bigging him up quite a bit but he’s been great.”

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