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With James Ryan in the form of his life, now is the perfect time for him to get his seventh cap as Ireland captain, according to Grand Slam winner Fiona Hayes.

Regular Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is in a race against time to be fit for his side's last two Guinness Six Nations matches this season. This has resulted in James Ryan being named captain for their trip to Rome on Saturday, ahead of the full team announcement on Thursday.

While Ryan has captained his country on six separate occasions thus far, none of those previous matches instilled hope that he would be the eventual successor to wear the proverbial armband once Sexton walks off into the sunset.

However, now that Ryan has rediscovered the form that made him one of the best second rowers in the world in 2018, Hayes believes that captaincy will only bring the best out of Ryan.

Oh captain, my captain

Speaking on Wednesday Night Rugby, Hayes broke down why she thinks that now is the right time for Ryan to stand in as captain.

"I'm delighted for him," Hayes said. "After he was captain the last couple of times, before Ireland started to perform well, I think he was put under a lot of pressure.

"He looked like, maybe, the captaincy was getting to him in how he was playing. He wasn't playing the best rugby of his life. But he looks like a different character now."

Ryan is not the typical, brash leader. He is more reserved and lets his actions speak for him. Hayes believes that he is the type of captain that leads from the front, and other players want to play for.

"People have different [attitudes towards captaincy]," Hayes said. "When I was playing, Fiona Coghlan would have been a natural leader, whereas Ciara Griffin, when she was captaining Ireland, you watched how she plays and you go out there and want to play for her!

"I would imagine James Ryan is like that as well. He puts performances in at training, he's very physical, and says very few words, but what he says means something.

"He has obviously earned the right to be captain. He's in Farrell's head all the time."

Farrell is getting the best out of Ryan

Ryan was unbeaten in his first 24 matches as a professional rugby player. From Leinster to Ireland, it took a trip to Brisbane against Australia, in Ryan's eighth test appearance, for the Blackrock native to taste defeat.

Since that first defeat, though, Ryan's form began to slump, eventually leading to him not being involved in the British & Irish Lions series in 2021; a series that he had long been touted as the captain of prior to the team being annoucned.

However, in the past 18 months, Ryan has rediscovered his form of five years ago, and looks to be a bigger, stronger and more mature player than he has ever been.

For Hayes, this form coupled with captaincy will only bring out the best in the 26-year-old.

"I think in this Six Nations, he's one of my top players," Hayes said. "He's back to when we originally saw him break onto the scene.

"I feel like he's almost been around forever, but he's playing some of the best rugby. I firmly believe in making him captain, Farrell will get the best out of him. He'll be able to cope with that pressure."

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