How the tennis-mad forward who idolised Rafael Nadal became one of Ireland’s best

 Credit: Alamy

Credit: Alamy

Back five forward Ryan Baird never looked to rugby for inspiration when growing up but it did not stop him becoming one of the best players in Ireland.

The hybrid forward, who is equally capable at lock or back-row, looks set to play a key role for the Irish at the Rugby World Cup.

Baird forced his way into matchday 23 during this year’s Six Nations and started in Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam triumph over England.

He may not be a starter in their first choice XV at the global tournament, but the 24-year-old’s versatility and athleticism is very much suited to an impact role off the bench.

The Leinster forward also impresses in the technical aspects of the game, as well as his work ethic and competitiveness.

Nadal’s qualities

That final facet is something he took from tennis legend Rafael Nadal, whose determination and will to win is legendary.

“I wouldn’t have really looked up to anybody in rugby,” Baird told reporters.

“It was more tennis, Nadal was my idol when I was growing up. I enjoyed watching and playing rugby but it would have been Nadal who I idolised.”

Now that Baird is very much immersed in the rugby world, the talented forward is looking for inspiration from his fellow players as to how to improve in certain aspects of his game.

“We were actually just talking about it yesterday and then we sat down and were chatting about what we’re all looking at individually,” he said.

“You can learn so much by just watching them on the laptops, seeing how they do something. If I’m struggling to get square in a defensive line, for example, I’ll watch someone who’s really good at it and pick their brain and they’ll say ‘oh, what I do is set up this way and then I look this way’.

“There’s probably someone in the building here who is better than you at pretty much everything, you’ll have your one or two super strengths, you don’t want too many of those, and then you see someone else’s and you pick on them and pick on someone else.

“That’s when you get the best results, when everyone is sharing and it’s collaborative, because everyone has their point of difference and you’re trying to learn from each and every person.”

Baird has also been watching the Rugby Championship to check out their main competitors.

Ireland face South Africa in the pool stages of the World Cup and could then take on the All Blacks in the quarter-finals.

“Yeah, you kind of have a little peak at their [South Africa’s] line-outs and the same with New Zealand, just seeing if there are any trends that teams are trying to do at the moment leading up to the World Cup,” he said.

“But I wouldn’t be putting too much attention on it, I’d be putting more attention on here.”

‘Discipline and patience’

The Leinster player has also learnt plenty from another hobby of his, which is fishing.

Plenty of “discipline and patience” is required, according to Baird, something which is vital for any rugby player at the top level.

“I love fishing. I haven’t actually done it in a while, just with holidays and all that stuff, but I do love fishing,” he added.

“We were playing yesterday in Carton and the river that flows through there, you can see fish in and I was thinking I’d love to get a rod out and try to catch some.

“It’s very therapeutic, fishing, because you’re out there and you don’t know when you’re going to get a hit and you might not get a hit, so it teaches you a great level of discipline and patience.

“Then if it’s a good day, it’s calm, you can hear the birds around you and just chill out. It’s very nice.

“A lot of the time I’d just go by myself. It’s very relaxing. I feel very present when I’m there.”

READ MORE: ‘You’re going to have to beat them somewhere’ – brutal World Cup draw holds no fear for Ireland

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