They battled to get into bonus-point territory late on before Vereniki Goneva's late try made the match safe for Leicester.
And, according to Ryan, his players can take credit from their performance in the second period.
He said: "I think it was a classic match of two 40 minutes. After 12 weeks of training everyone was trying to make a positive impact.
"We ended up sinking a little bit. And you can feel like you're drowning at Welford Road because you can't get out of your 22.
"We've worked hard on certain things that we want to do. I think the first time out you'll have an overemphasis on things because you've worked on them. And it took us till half-time to redirect that.
"But in the second-half we were a little bit smarter. We were a little bit more direct and kept field position. And we got pretty close.
"Halfway through that game we could have gone and crawled under a rock and got a good beating - but we didn't. We came back in and their lead looked a bit fragile for a period.
"We're a courageous squad and we're trying to work really hard - I think we illustrated that to everyone today."
Ryan named Matavesi at centre alongside fellow Fijian Ravai Fatiaki and the Director of Rugby was quick to pay tribute to the partnership.
He added: "Josh is a real threat. We need to get the balance between his ability to play wide and his ability to carry. Because he can do both.
"We should be getting the likes of Josh and Rav across the top of people and I thought we did that a lot better after half-time.
"If we get that mix right then his ability to play with his hands is such a threat when he's got Rav outside him. I think it's going to be a great combination.
"Rav is great from what I've seen in training - he's been fantastic. He's got the ability to grow into a real force within the Aviva Premiership."