Tom Ryder ready to ‘knock people around’ if he earns first Scotland cap
IN the opening match of the Pacific Nations Cup that Scotland appear to have gate-crashed (one local thought the Scots were officially in the tournament) Fiji handed caps to ten débutants, which gives you some idea of just how raw and untested a side Scotland will face on Saturday.
Andy Robinson has been a little less generous, with just two new caps so far. Ryan Grant started against Australia and Tom Brown came off the bench just before half-time when Sean Lamont had his ribs rearranged by Digby Ioane. It’s impossible to second guess the whims of the selectors and the future player casualty rate but, as things stand, Glasgow’s no-nonsense lock Tom Ryder is as likely as anyone else in the squad to add to that short list.
Ryder qualifies for Scotland thanks to a Glasgow father, although he has spent most of his life down south. The young lock grew up in Nottingham and spent around four years at Leicester Tigers, most of them in the Academy although he did earn a handful of first-team starts as a teenager. Jim Hamilton once said that, despite moving on some time ago, he still considered himself a Leicester play at heart so can Ryder relate to that?
“Yeah,” says the lock basking in the Fijian heat. “I know exactly what he means. I think it’s probably the mentality at Leicester, that you were brought up in Leicester and you play for Leicester and there is a hardness, an edge that that environment gives you. I haven’t really come across it...” Ryder tails off before settling for: “It definitely wasn’t the same at Saracens. There was that real pride in wearing the club shirt and Leicester was such a rugby town, everyone is rugby orientated. There are a few rugby towns in England and Leicester is definitely one of them.”
A move to Saracens followed and he played an agonising 98 matches for the London outfit, just two appearances shy of winning a special blazer. Two years ago, egged on my his Scottish dad, he was loaned to Glasgow and last season the move was formalised to everyone’s satisfaction. Ryder turned out 29 times for his new club and he beat some pretty impressive opposition to earn a place in the RaboDirect Dream Team, not least his own team mates Al Kellock and Richie Gray.
“Yeah, it was great but it doesn’t really mean anything,” said Ryder. “At the same time, it’s good to be put in the com- pany of other good players. It was nice to be put in good company but it doesn’t mean anything, its just someone’s opinion when I am only really interested in what the coach thinks.
“I had a chat with Andy Robinson in Manly and he said just to bring my own game. I probably bring a certain level of physicality. I’m six five, ok six four and three quarters, so I’m not hugely tall or massively heavy but I probably have a bit more mobility than most second rows and I’ve got quite a high workrate.
“I like to knock people around and compete for the ball and be a menace at ruck time and try and collapse mauls and stuff, you know, that’s the sort of game I enjoy but, at the same time, I quite enjoy it when it’s loose and I can get my hands on the ball. I’m probably a bit more versatile from that point of view. He [Robinson] wants me to be that physical kind of lock, drive past the ball to secure quick possession and just do what second rows do.”
And Ryder does just what second rows do in a wonderfully, uncomplicated way. He stands testament to one of rugby’s oldest unwritten rules – the game is still a brutal physical battle and if, one side is allowed to intimidate the other, they will. Someone has to roll their sleeves up and do the hard, manual lifting.
While his size may be an issue to Ryder, the lock is Robinson’s favourite type of player – think Alasdair Strokosch’s bigger brother. On the field he looks a little like the Kiwi Matt Mustchin, another Robinson favourite, who won five Scotland caps at lock in 2008 thanks to a Billy Bunter appetite for hard work that rendered his (relative) lack of inches an irrelevance. Ryder is now 27, approaching the prime years of a tight five forward and he is painfully aware that opportunities like Saturday might not come along too often. The ghost of Jim Thompson hangs above our conversation because the utility back sat on the bench in Argentina two years ago, he was overlooked and now he has been released by Edinburgh.
Ryder knows he must seize the opportunity of a first cap or risk losing it. With painful understatement, he uses the adjective “eager” to describe his mental situation whilst remaining bench-bound for the full 80 minutes in Newcastle and he argues persuasively in favour of a run this coming Saturday in very different weather conditions. “Rugby’s changed,” Ryder argued. “The bench is no longer used just in case of emergency. The bench is there to make an impact and I think that was true of Glasgow last year. There were quite a few times when we were down or losing and ended up winning the game because the bench made a difference.”
Ryder missed his daughter Rosie’s first birthday in order to tour with Scotland this summer. One nod from Robinson next Saturday afternoon would more than compensate.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west