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James Ryan will captain Ireland in the absence of Johnny Sexton for this Saturday's Autumn Nations Cup game against England at Twickenham, to the surprise of absolutely nobody.

The Leinster second row seemed destined to be a star since his 2017 summer debut, when he ran in under the posts to score within seconds of entering the pitch. That game against the USA was his first outing in senior rugby, only making his Leinster debut a few months later.

But within a few months, it became evident James Ryan would be important to Ireland's progression not just as a player, but as a leader. His name was mentioned as a possible captain after Rory Best's 2019 retirement, before Andy Farrell opted for the experience of Johnny Sexton.

But with Sexton out of this weekend's game due to a hamstring injury, the 24-year-old Leinster lock has been given the honour to lead out the side this week.

Keith Earls has been there since day one of Ryan's international career against the USA in 2017, and says the early signs were there that this 20-year-old kid was there for the long-haul, indeed reminding him of one of his firmer Irish and Munster captains.

"He was fairly quiet, but you could already see the leadership qualities with the way he prepared himself, how he went through his detail, how he prepared off the field, and when he took to the field he was a different animal.

"I think he scored in his first touch of international rugby. But he's been incredible, he's come on in leaps and bounds. A lot of similarities to Paulie (O'Connell) as well.

James Ryan Captain

It's been three and a half years since James Ryan's test debut, stepping up to captaincy - albeit on a temporary basis - at the age of 24, just as O'Connell did against France 16 years ago.

"His mannerisms, the way he comes across, the way he speaks, everyone just listens straight away. He's got that presence and that's even off the field," Earls added.

"Even off the field, he's constantly working, looking at line-outs. He trains hard in the gym and for a young lad his body's been through a lot already and he turns up every week.

"Similar to what Paulie would have done, he'd do whatever it takes to get the win at the weekend."

Earls will be eager to get more game time against England this Saturday, having got a short run off the bench against Wales last week, his first international appearance since last February's Twickenhem defeat.

Competition is heavy now though with the likes of Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Shane Daly shoving their way up the back-three queue.

"Yeah it was great! Obviously being out the last couple of weeks, it was a short cameo but it was an enjoyable one. It was just great to be back involved with the 23 again and get a good win against Wales.

"The competition for the back three has gone through the roof, with Hugo and James and Shane Dally as well, and Conway, and then you take in Jordan (Larmour) who is injured as well. In fairness to the lads, there's nobody holding back."

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Irish Rugby James Ryan Keith Earls Paul O'Connell

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