OF ALL THE big moments, and there were many, that early collision when Devin Toner and James Ryan — Ireland’s twin towers — double-teamed Brodie Retallick and smashed the All Black second row two metres backwards set the tone. The giant had been felled. 

32-year-old Toner was unwavering in his lineout brilliance again on Saturday, claiming every restart and kick with authority, and showed why he has become an essential cog in the wheel, even at this stage of his career. The standing ovation on 61 minutes was well-deserved. 

Ryan made 17 carries against the All Blacks. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

And then there’s Ryan, the 22-year-old ball-carrying, tackle-making machine who continues to soar to new heights in that number five jersey, producing a performance of immense relentlessness and quality to repel Retallick and the black wave. His engine is quite remarkable.

It was perhaps telling that it was Retallick, widely-regarded as the best lock in the world, who spilled the ball onto the Aviva Stadium turf when the clock had gone red to ensure victory for Ireland. Weary and wounded, he had been on the back foot for much of the evening.

Ryan’s stats barely scratch the surface, but 20 tackles and 17 carries is a snapshot of his influence, work-rate, physicality and all-round importance to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.

From captaining the U20s to victory over New Zealand two years ago, Ryan’s international career has taken off and certainly his stock is rapidly rising, evidenced by one Kiwi journalist concluding he has now earned the right to be called the world’s best.

“I think he’s shown now in some very, very big games what he can do,” Rory Best said.

“His age is something that’s talked about in the media sometimes, but just because James is young, it doesn’t mean…we know what he can do, and we expect that. You expect him to produce that now for many years to come.

“It doesn’t matter that he’s the youngest of the locks, he has shown what he’s capable of and that’s what we expect from him now. And we expect him to prepare well so he can produce that on a Saturday.”

Toner was also effusive in his praise for his locking partner.

“He doesn’t surprise me anymore because I know what he can do. Because he is so special people keep expecting it from him but he keeps on stepping up.

“He’s always there to carry, he’s always there to tackle. He’s a special player.”

Toner and Ryan celebrate after the game. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As for Toner, his worth in a green jersey has never been more appreciated or heralded, with his partnership with Ryan emerging as undoubtedly Schmidt’s first-choice pairing, even with Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne and Quinn Roux waiting in the wings.

“I think the mentality going into this game was one of the best that we’ve had,” he continued.

“I don’t think that we were going to lose that game, to be honest with you. What everyone was saying — what Sexto, Pete and Besty were driving — I don’t think anyone was going to give up anything, to be honest.

Doing it in front of a sold-out, febrile home crowd only added to the occasion and magnitude of the result.

“The atmosphere was unbelievable, it was so loud, as loud as I’ve heard it,” Toner added.

“It wasn’t great to call lineouts it was so loud, but to come out on top in that manner is unbelievable.

“It doesn’t mean more because of the personnel, it means more because it’s in Dublin, being able to do it in front of your home crowd.” 

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