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Missing out on the 2021 Lions tour was the best thing for James Ryan, and Keith Wood feels it's turned him into an integral part of this Irish Grand Slam team.

When Warren Gatland excluded James Ryan and Johnny Sexton from his Lions tour to squad for South Africa, many, particularly in Ireland, were shocked by the call.

However, since then, both the Irish captain and stand-in captain have risen far beyond their previous form. They have led Ireland to a first ever Grand Slam in Dublin, and are on track to be one of the favourites for the World Cup.

Former Ireland captain Keith Wood feels that Ryan in particular is integral to Ireland's chances of lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy.

Speaking on Wednesday Night Rugby, Wood looked back on the excellent Six Nations that Ryan had in 2023.

"James Ryan is a different player to what he was a couple of years ago," Wood said. "He's put on more bulk. He is putting in a lot of tackles.

"He is using his hands very well, I think he's a more complete player than he was before. I thought he was jaded two or three years ago.

"He'd been through a period of time where he'd played every minute of every game, and i don't know that he was old enough or had enough bulk on to be able to deal with the punishment that he was getting.

"I just think he's matured into a far better player, and he looks absolutely integral to this team."

Ryan will still be a Lion

In spite of Ryan missing out two years ago, Wood believes that if he maintains his current form, the Leinster lock will undoubtedly make the 2025 tour to Australia.

"Of course he's going on the Lions, you're damned right!" Wood said. "I kind of half think that not going on that Lions tour [in 2021] may have been the best thing for him.

"It definitely would have affected him and upset him an awful lot, but he's come back from that slightly more bitter, stronger and incredibly effective."

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