TOM Ryder was at Clydebank Rugby Club yesterday helping launch this year’s RBS RugbyForce initiative, which seeks to support the game at grassroots level by providing a small grant, plus kit and equipment, to clubs which have shown the ambition and drive to grow the game.
Nearly 150 clubs across Scotland have signed up to the event, which will take place on 9 August, and each entrant was asked at the outset to describe how a visit from a current Scotland player would add value and interest to their day. Clydebank, a lighthouse for rugby in the footballing ocean of West Dumbartonshire, is one of the clubs which impressed the judges with their vision for a ‘doors open’ day, during which they plan to run a tens tournament for nine local clubs, with women’s and mini rugby also on the menu. Meanwhile, those not involved on the pitch will be encouraged to help in a pre-season tidy-up and DIY drive around the clubhouse and grounds.
“We’re in the process of changing into a community sports hub and from that perspective we want the place to be as welcoming as possible to visitors. We’ve identified a number of jobs we want to do in the next month, and then we’re going to have a big push on the day when the Scotland lads are here to get everyone mucking in and really give the place a new lease of life,” said club secretary David Smart.
It is an enterprise to which Ryder can relate, because after an injury-ravaged 2013-14 campaign, the 29-year-old lock is determined to make 2014-15 a season for renewal. “I had surgery on the tendons in both my knees seven weeks ago so hopefully that has resolved that problem and with a clean bill of health, I can get back to playing my best rugby,” he said.
“Last year was frustrating. I managed to play 11 games, and when I was in the team I felt like I was playing well – but the competition at Glasgow now is really fierce, so you can’t just be playing well, you have to be playing at your best.”
Ryder was named in the Rabo Pro12 Team of the Year at the end of the 2011-12 season and during the subsequent summer tour he was capped twice against Fiji and Samoa. Standing 6ft 5in tall and weighing just under 17 stone, he is on the small side by modern second-row standards – but what he lacks in physical stature he makes up for in workrate and determination. He came through the youth set-up at Leicester Tigers, before moving to Saracens in 2005. He initially joined Glasgow as injury cover on a two-month loan at the start of the 2010-11 campaign, and did enough during the period to be offered a permanent deal by then head coach Sean Lineen.
Ryder’s importance to the squad was demonstrated when he was handed a two-year contract extension by Gregor Townsend in December 2012. However, that deal runs out at the end of the coming season, and with Jonny Gray, Tim Swinson and Leone Nakarawa having made big impressions in the Warriors engine room in recent months, the pressure is on.
“It’s probably the most competitive position in Scotland. I can’t think of any other position which has the same level of strength in depth, so that’s a big challenge but that’s what drives you on,” he said.
“My return to play date is at the beginning of October, so it’s just a case of getting my head down and training well between now and then – and then taking my opportunity when it hopefully comes along.
“When I was younger I got opportunities because people got injured, and the guys who have come in originally got their opportunities because Al Kellock and I were injured. That’s what happens – it’s the cycle of rugby. It’s all about staying fit and continuing to play well otherwise you lose your place. And you have to give Jonny a lot of credit for the way he has taken his opportunity.”
It promises to be an intriguing battle for selection, which is just the way it should be if Townsend’s team are serious in their stated aim of becoming a genuine force in Celtic and European rugby. “The good thing about Glasgow is that this has been building for a number of years. The way that rugby is now, you can’t just have a good fifteen, you’ve got to have two fifteens if not three fifteens to compete throughout the year – and I think that’s the stage we are now getting to,” said Ryder.
“Having reached the final, we know we probably didn’t perform quite as well as we had done in the previous weeks, and against a side of the calibre of Leinster you are going to come off second best. But it was a new experience and we have learned from it. We’re also desperate to make a mark in Europe. The group we’ve got is a tough one [alongside Montpellier, Bath and Toulouse], but if we want to be one of the best teams in Europe that is the competition we want to be in, and those are the teams we want to be testing ourselves against.”