Ryan was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and attended Christ's College where he was a significant player in the school's First XV. He later attended Knox College at the University of Otago where he embarked upon Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce degrees. He made his All Black debut age 22, versus Fiji in 2005 and has played 9 test matches for the All Blacks. Ryan, who in 2005 was labelled by former All Black coach Laurie Mains as "potentially one of the great All Black locks", was sidelined in April 2007 with a serious knee injury. Ryan had 3 operations in the space of 12 months and announced the termination of his contract with the Otago Rugby Union in March 2008 and confirmed he was taking an indefinite break from rugby.