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Unheralded Irishman's Top 14 success

TOP 14    

Meet the unheralded Irishman making quite a name for himself in the Top 14 at the age of 33

When it comes to Irish players in the Top 14, the names of Racing 92 duo Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan or Perpignan’s Paddy Jackson quickly roll off the tongue. However, their are not the only Irish performers creating headlines in the glamour French league.

The ex-Munster pair, along with Ulster’s Jackson, all arrived in France on money-spinning deals with CVs that included World Cup appearances and Six Nations titles with Ireland, but the quiet rise to prominence of Dave Ryan is a classic underdog tale, a story of an unheralded talent eventually coming good.

Few gave Dave Ryan much of a chance of making it at this elite level, especially following a graveyard shift at Ulster where he didn’t play a single match in 2014/15.

The former Munster loosehead, who made 11 appearances during the Tony McGahan era, had arrived in Belfast via a stint in Italy where his efforts at Super 10 side Lazio got him a deal at Zebre.

However, after his return to Ireland failed to fire his career, he was forced to look abroad again or else face packing in the sport.

(Continue reading below…)

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Agen took a punt and four season later, Ryan, who turns 33 next month, has matured like a fine wine, making 100 appearances for a club he is now contracted with through to the end of the 2020/21 season.

“He has a huge mind, he is a very big worker who always works for the team with a very good state of mind. He is one of my relays in the field. He is part of the council of the wise,” enthused coach Mauricio Reggiardo.

Ryan’s 100th match for Agen was the St Patrick’s weekend victory over La Rochelle last Saturday, a milestone that took him by surprise. “It’s a real honour for me,” he said.

“When I came here I did not really think about getting there (to 100). To make four seasons, plus two others to come, it’s a real honour because I really like this club, this city. Before this game I did not know it was my 100th, but I will really be aware later at the end of my career surely.”

Racing’s Simon Zebo, tackled by Leicester’s Will Spencer, arrived in the Top 14 with a very different CV to Dave Ryan (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Agen’s 19-7 win over Rochelle was their sixth victory in 19 matches, Ryan featuring in 16 of those games.

“Physically and mentally I feel good,” he said about a selection consistency few in Ireland thought he was capable of following his formative years at Munster and an unsuccessful spell at Ulster.

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Meet the unheralded Irishman making quite a name for himself in the Top 14 at the age of 33