WRITTEN BY: JOE HARVEY
PHOTOS: SAN DIEGO LEGION
“I think we’re the first team to beat Seattle in Seattle and they won it last year. So that was a big thing for us,” said San Diego Legion prop, Paddy Ryan. “And we’re both on the west coast, so there is a bit of a rivalry there”
“New York is a team that we know all the names in it, so to beat them away was quite important. But I wouldn’t say that there is any point in getting ahead of ourselves,” said Ryan. “There is still plenty of stuff that we’re working on to make ourselves championship quality.”
Speaking prior to his side’s narrow 19-23 loss against the Toronto Arrows, the San Diego Legion had been on a six-game unbeaten run, launching them to first in the overall standings. Still at the head of the pack, Ryan believes that it is the Legion coaching staff that deserves a lot of praise for the side’s fantastic performances this season.
“I had no idea about Hoad’s (Legion Head Coach Rob Hoadley), but after I agreed to come, I started talking to him on a regular basis and I have really enjoyed working with him,” said Ryan. “We also have Zack Test, who played for the USA, who is a pretty good attack coach. Hoad covers defense, then we’ve got Scott Murray who covers the forwards.”
“As a three-man unit, they really compliment each other well. Hoad’s is a great coach, he’s meticulous with the finer details and everything. His ability to recruit the guys that we want to have and the quality of guys that we have at this club is exceptional. I think that’s why we’ve had a good season and are set up well going forward.”
Ryan came to Major League Rugby with a wealth of experience in Australia. The New South Wales native was part of the Waratahs team that won Super Rugby in 2014, narrowly beating a Crusaders team that possessed All Blacks legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
Deciding to leave his home country after he reached a century of appearances for the Waratahs, Ryan had several moves to Europe fall through, before a chance encounter on his way to a Super Rugby semi-final in Johannesburg landed the Ryan in California.
“I walked into the airport lounge and a guy called Scott Wisemantel was there, who coached me at the Waratah’s when I first started, and he was on his way to the US to do some coaching of the coaches in MLR. We got to talking and I thought; living in America is something I’d be interested in.”
“I sent out a few emails and maybe a fortnight later, I got a call from the Australian owner of San Diego,” said Ryan. “There are two owners here, one is called Darren Gardner, he’s a California native and the other owner is Darren Gardner, who was born in Muswellbrook, about two hours from where I was born.”
“I think we had a 20 or 30-minute conversation and the whole thing was pretty much sewn up. He was the kind of guy that I wanted to play for. The competition sounded exciting. It was pretty clear that he was a good guy, ran a good show. That’s how it all unfolded. A bit of chance,” a smiling Ryan said.
Since arriving in the league, Ryan has gained a reputation as a force to be reckoned with, his name being on the First XV of the week on nine occasions so far this season. A four-time Australia international, Ryan admits that he was surprised by the physical nature of the league when he first arrived on North American shores.
“It’s pretty physical, certainly not as physical is Super Rugby, but it is more physical than I would have thought. There is a big set-piece and forward domination focus. I think that comes from American football, having your side going forward so that you’re on top,” said Ryan.
“It’s a lot more European-style scrummaging here. The first job is making sure that you get good ball for the backs, so if you can find some ascendency it is a good way to impose your forward pack onto the opposition.”
As a more experienced member of the squad, Ryan has taken a leadership role within the Legion camp, specifically helping out the front-rows eager to take the step up to the professional level; “There are a few young American guys here that I work with on a regular basis. Just trying to teach them the finer things about being a front-rower, but that’s not something official, just part of what we are as a club.”
As the first team in 2019 to officially secure a playoff spot, Ryan says that there is only one objective that he hopes to achieve this season.
“We’re here to win the Shield. To win the competition.”