22 February 2023

James Ryan aware he has ‘big shoes to fill’ after being named Ireland captain

22 February 2023

James Ryan admits he has “big shoes to fill” as he prepares to captain Grand Slam-chasing Ireland against Italy in place of the injured Johnny Sexton.

Sexton’s absence for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash in Rome was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon when Ryan was named skipper.

The 26-year-old will lead his country for the first time since last year’s championship defeat to France in Paris and on a seventh occasion overall.

Sexton will travel with the squad to Stadio Olimpico after sustaining a groin problem in the round-two win over Les Bleus and lock Ryan plans to lean on his influential Leinster team-mate for guidance.

“It’s obviously a huge honour, it’s very cool, it’s a great moment for me and my family,” Ryan said of taking on the captaincy.

“We’ve got a core leadership group that has been there for the last couple of years that work well together.

“But obviously he (Sexton) is big shoes to fill. He will be travelling over with us this weekend so it will be great to have him around.

“I spoke to him earlier this week and got his advice on a couple of things. It’s great that he’s travelling, I’m sure we’ll catch up over there.”

Ireland launched themselves into pole position for the championship title by beating the French 32-19 on the back of an opening 34-10 success over Wales.

Sexton limped off early in the second half of the victory over Fabien Galthie’s reigning champions following a hefty collision with visiting prop Uini Atonio.

Ryan believes Andy Farrell’s side are now better equipped to deal with the loss of star names due to a “no-excuse mentality”.

“That’s one of the things that Faz (Farrell) is brilliant at, it’s not 15 or 23, it’s all about the group so I think the squad depth is one thing that has come on the last couple of years,” said Ryan, who won his 50th Test cap last time out.

“Tadhg Furlong is one example, a big player for us that’s injured but how well Finlay Bealham has gone. He’s just an example.

“If there’s an injury or someone pulls out late there’s a no-excuse mentality in the group.

“Everyone has to be ready to play and fill that void so that’s just the mentality of the team at the moment.”

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