Stand-in captain James Ryan insists Ireland are close to world’s top teams

Captain James Ryan insists Ireland are not far behind the world’s top teams but admits collective mistakes are preventing his country closing the gap.

Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup loss to World Cup finalists England was the latest in a string of defeats to higher-ranked sides.

Since last year’s World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of New Zealand spelled the end of Joe Schmidt’s reign, the Irish have twice been beaten by Eddie Jones’ men and once by France in their seven fixtures under head coach Andy Farrell.

Ireland have two remaining autumn fixtures – beginning on Sunday with the visit of Georgia – in which to continue their transition under Farrell and Leinster lock Ryan believes eradicating errors is a major priority.

“If you are looking at where they (England) are getting their scores from, I don’t think we’re very far from being able to go toe to toe with the world’s top one, top two teams,” he said.

“We’ll take confidence from that.

“Yes, we’ve got to learn and make sure we’re not repeating the same mistakes but, at the same time, if we’re a bit more accurate, if we’re not giving them that access into the game, I think these games would be very close.

“We’ll see how we go the next couple of weeks and we’ve got a Six Nations to come around after that and we’ll get an understanding then of where we are.

  • November 13: Ireland 32-9 Wales
  • November 21: England 18-7 Ireland
  • November 29: Ireland v Georgia
  • December 5: Ireland v TBC

“But, as I said, I don’t think we are far away. We’re looking to finish on a high now and be brimming going into the Six Nations.”

Ireland were culpable of a series of set-piece blunders during the 18-7 loss at Twickenham.

A much-improved second-half showing during which they posted more points and greater territory than their hosts helped keep the final scoreline respectable.

Ryan believes the team must be “smarter” on the field, in addition to being more ruthless with their attacking opportunities.

Ireland came off second best against England at Twickenham
Ireland came off second best against England at Twickenham (Adam Davy/PA)

Asked if he hoped for patience from the Irish public, he replied: “Yeah, absolutely. It was relatively inexperienced side in comparison to those (England) guys who have been together nine, 10 years.

“I was proud of the lads, I thought we really fronted up defensively, although we didn’t finish our opportunities, we kept slamming the door, we kept working very hard for each other.

“But we just weren’t clinical enough. We’re just trying to find that clinical edge, so a bit of a mixed bag.

“We’ll take massive confidence from the physicality the lads showed. And the next layer of that is just about being a bit smarter.

“We’ve just got to be good enough players to have that ability to have that bit of calmness to see pictures and react accordingly.”

Regular Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has been ruled out by injury for the second successive match
Regular Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has been ruled out by injury for the second successive match (David Davies/PA)

Ryan acted as stand-in skipper for his country in London and is set to do so again this weekend in the continued absence of injured fly-half Johnny Sexton.

While the 24-year-old is relishing the responsibility, he is not currently contemplating taking the armband from Sexton on a permanent basis.

“No. hopefully Johnny will be back next week and he’ll back leading the side,” said Ryan.

“It’s something I have enjoyed, obviously. But he’s team captain.”

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