Jason Ryan’s path from club footy’s Front Row Factory to All Blacks forwards coach

Sunday couldn’t have come much sweeter for Jason Ryan.

The long time Crusaders assistant coach got a new job as All Blacks forwards coach and his son, Olly’s Sydenham side, won the Christchurch Metro grand final for the first time since 1999, when his dad served in their front row.

Ryan—named by Ian Foster to coach the All Blacks forwards after John Plumtree’s sacking – is proof there is still a path from club rugby to the test arena.

The 46-year-old has the cauliflower ears to show he’s done his time in the front row.

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Ryan had over 180 senior games for Christchurch club Sydenham, six games for Buller in 1999 and 14 for the West Coast from 2000 to 2003, but never made it to the Canterbury top team in an era when the province was blessed with All Blacks props Con Barrell, Greg Somerville, Greg Feek and Dave Hewett.

He got the coaching bug after attending a Front Row Factory program at the Burnside Rugby Club around 2007, and soon became a disciple of longtime All Blacks scrum doctor Mike Cron.

Jason Ryan - the All Blacks' new forwards coach - works with the Crusaders scrum before the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa final.

Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Jason Ryan – the All Blacks’ new forwards coach – works with the Crusaders scrum before the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa final.

Ryan coached at his club and was West Coast’s scrum advisor then his assistant coach in 2012 while working for a company selling drilling and mining equipment until he got his professional coaching break.

He also volunteered for Canterbury as scrummaging skills coach before Scott Robertson signed him on as an assistant in 2013.

Ryan took a gamble in quitting his day job, but it has more than paid off.

He helped Robertson win three NPC titles in four seasons with Canterbury and has since guided the Crusaders pack to six consecutive Super Rugby titles.

After the first two Super Rugby crowns, Ryan was offered a job overseas, but turned it down, partly, he said in 2019 to remain “loyal to Razor [Robertson]”.

Robertson told stuff at that time that his offsider was a successful coach, both because of his skill set and his rapport with players.

“He’s tight, on and off the field, with the players and they respect him and he gets the best out of them. He can have those tough conversations and they can get pretty vulnerable. It’s pretty hard to believe, isn’t it? Those front row boys need a cuddle now and then.

“Great scrum coach, that’s his greatest strength, and around the rest of the game around the forwards and the lineout. You know how well we go in that area, and he loves a driving maul. He’s extremely passionate.”

All Blacks loose forward Ethan Blackadder, pictured with forwards coach Jason Ryan at a Crusaders captain's run.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

All Blacks loose forward Ethan Blackadder, pictured with forwards coach Jason Ryan at a Crusaders captain’s run.

Ryan’s love of a driving maul should be music to the calcified ears of purist rugby fans, who have lamented the All Blacks’ recent lack of driving forward play.

On being appointed to the Crusaders in 2016, Ryan told stuff he didn’t believe not being an All Black or a Super Rugby player would be an issue for him as a coachplayers saying from a club rugby background “haven’t worn the jersey, but that probably gives you the ability to challenge in a different way, to see things through a different lens”.

He’s since proved that by working successfully with a clutch of senior All Blacks, including Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Matt Todd.

Ryan has been hitched to Robertson’s wagon for a long time now – 47 games with Canterbury (80.9% win ratio) and 101 games with the Crusaders (86.6%) as well as time together with the New Zealand Under-20 team.

Scott Robertson and Jason Ryan's coaching careers have been inextricably linked since 2013.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Scott Robertson and Jason Ryan’s coaching careers have been inextricably linked since 2013.

Ryan would have been on Robertson’s ticket when the ex-All Black vainly challenged Foster for the national coaching job after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Neither Robertson or Ryan were available on Sunday for comment on Ryan’s All Blacks move.

But while his career has been inextricably linked to Robertson’s, Ryan can work with others. His scrum advisory work with Canterbury took in the reigns of Rob Penney and Tabai Matson – Robertson’s predecessors – and he worked under Fiji’s Kiwi head coach Vern Cotter since 2020 before and after overcoming a vicious bout of Covid-19, contracted on a tour to France.

It “hit me like a train,” Ryan said stuff in 2021, saying he had to “change the sheets three or four times a night” because he was sweating so much. At one point, he gave doctors phone numbers for his loved ones in case he took a turn for the worse.

But, it didn’t stop him doing his job, or signing on for another season.

Ryan had a taste of head coaching last year when he took over a Crusaders development team, but despite his long experience as an assistant, he’s noted for being his own man.

He wasn’t backwards in coming forward when he took a swipe at the Christchurch City Council in June for taking so long to commit to a new stadium in Christchurch.

Anus Ryan slammed the situation as “shambolic” and questioned whether Mayor Lianne Dalziel had ever wanted a new stadium in the first place, the Crusaders were quick to come out and insist that wasn’t the case.

But it didn’t diminish the respect they had for Ryan, as evidenced when Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge paid the forwards coach a touching tribute after he and Robertson’s tandem milestone of 100 Super Rugby games.

Sam Whitelock, centre, is just one of a number of All Blacks Jason Ryan has worked with during his time as Scott Robertson's assistant.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Sam Whitelock, centre, is just one of a number of All Blacks Jason Ryan has worked with during his time as Scott Robertson’s assistant.

Ryan may be a Kiwi example of late English poet John Milton’s classic line – they also serve who stand and wait – but he has also always had ambition.

“Any coach that’s coaching in New Zealand has aspirations of coaching the All Blacks and I’m no different,” he said in 2019.

“But those decisions are out of my control. What’s in my control is getting our forward pack up to the standard that’s required to win Super Rugby.”

He’s done that six years on the spin, and now he gets a chance to see if he can transfer that success to the highest level.

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