Around The Fringes: Paddy Ryan
Photo: SPA Images
On a night when Australia’s most capped prop of all time bids farewell to the HSBC Waratahs faithful, it’s good to know that not only does he leave behind a terrific legacy of front row play, but also a desire amongst his young apprentices to try to follow in his footsteps. When the 2012 Super Rugby season starts, Al Baxter won’t be around, and while that offers an opportunity to move up the propping ladder for the likes of Sydney University tighthead Paddy Ryan, for the moment the 22-year-old is just happy to sing the praises of a guy who’s already been an enormous influence on him.
“It’s just a really sad loss for rugby in Sydney, not just for the Waratahs,” said Ryan. “For a guy who’s coming towards the end of his career, he didn’t have to be as good to blokes like me as he has been. He’s been great, and he’s always happy to talk you through your lineout role or help you out with your scrummaging stuff. He’s a player but almost with the experience of a coach, so I’m just trying to squeeze as much information out of him as I can before he’s gone!”
As well as Baxter, Ryan has had the benefit of working with, and learning from, what he sees as the best front row school in Australian rugby. And it’s one of the reasons he jumped at the chance to come to the HSBC Waratahs in the first place.
“The fact that there were blokes here like Benn Robinson, Al and ‘Keps’ [Sekope Kepu], and hookers like Tatafu and ‘Fitzy’ [Damien Fitzpatrick], having those guys there creates a really great environment for someone like me. We have a front row meeting every week and that’s always very enjoyable socially as well as technically, it is a great environment to be a young prop in.”
Ryan’s own pathway to the Tahs is rather more convoluted than most, and the decision to try and forge a career as a professional rugby player took some time for him to settle on. Raised in the country music capital of Tamworth, his first sporting efforts were on a soccer pitch before he made what he calls “a pretty simple transition from being a fat goalkeeper to being a prop”. He played his junior rugby at Peel Valley before becoming yet another HSBC Waratahs player to come through the system at St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill.
However, instead of following the immediate path towards Sydney club rugby and potential representative footy, he opted for a gap year in Ireland to see a bit of life and mull things over. Returning to play for Sydney Uni as his Dad and Uncles had done, he still couldn’t quite make up his mind to pursue rugby as a career. His epiphany came when he was faced with the realities of an alternative lifestyle.
“I flunked out of Uni, so Mum dragged me home and put me out with a family friend doing some fencing, which ultimately convinced me that I was going to play rugby because I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life! I was the youngest bloke in a three man team, so I was carrying the biggest pieces of wood you could think of. I quickly decided I wanted to play footy, came back to Sydney, rang Greg Mumm at Uni and asked to meet with him.”
A little over two years later and he has two Shute Shield Premiership winners medals and a contract with the Tahs to show for his commitment. He made his debut off the bench against the Chiefs back in April, but it’s his second cap against the reigning champion Bulls in the intimidating surrounds of Loftus Versfeld two weeks ago, that really stays in his memory.
“It’s one of the few things I’d have in my rugby experiences that’d rival winning the Shute Shield Premiership. It was very special – apart from the score. A lot of the guys at the Tahs – and I know me personally – love being in that situation when your backs against the wall and it’s going to be pretty tough. I think that’s the kind of environment or culture that’s at the Waratahs, we sort of enjoy that.”
His challenge next season may be to push for more game time in the absence of ‘The Fuse’. But he has a more pressing engagement to attend to first.
“I really need to pass my degree at UTS, because if I don’t pass my third attempt at Uni I think my Mum would emancipate me from the family!”
Original version published in the NSW Waratahs v Brumbies match program on June 18th, 2011