'Ringrose's time in green has arrived'
Published 01/11/2016 | 02:30
Second guess Joe Schmidt at your peril but the omission of Garry Ringrose from Leinster's match day squad last Saturday would suggest that the 21-year-old's time on the international stage is imminent.
Many would have expected Ringrose to have featured from the start next weekend against Canada but there is an ever-growing sense that he will start against New Zealand on Saturday.
From blazing a trail in school with Blackrock to a starring role in the 17 caps that he won for the Ireland U-20s, it has merely been a matter of time before Schmidt called upon him.
The Ireland coach resisted the clarion calls for Ringrose to be included in the Six Nations squad earlier this year and later in the bruising summer tour of South Africa.
Schmidt, it must be said, has managed the situation very carefully but such have been his performances this season, it is becoming almost impossible to overlook the young centre.
Couple that with the fact that Jared Payne continues to play his best rugby for Ulster from full-back and there is now the realistic temptation to break up his tried and tested midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw.
It remains to be seen if Schmidt will indeed opt for change but Henshaw has taken little time to settle at Leinster and has already showed signs of a promising understanding with Ringrose.
Going up against the All Blacks on your international debut is a daunting enough prospect but Ringrose has risen to every challenge that has been put in front of him in his fledgling career.
In New Zealand, the old adage 'if you are good enough, you're old enough' has always applied and if Schmidt does put his faith in Ringrose for the mouthwatering clash in Chicago, it's likely to be richly rewarded.
Gordon D'Arcy has seen Ringrose's unrefined talent up close but that rawness is rapidly becoming more polished and the former Leinster and Ireland centre certainly does not think that Saturday is too soon for Ringrose to be handed his debut.
"I don't think so at all. He has firmly deserved to be in the conversation," D'Arcy insists. "Garry last year had played very little professional rugby. I don't think it was a case of being physically ready.
"He had played very little professional rugby and Ireland weren't desperately crying out for an outside centre. They had a good centre partnership who were physically proven.
"They were playing against some of the best in the world. You go back to the embryonic stage of Henshaw and Jared Payne against South Africa and they completely out-muscled (Jan) Serfontein and (Damian) De Allende.
"There wasn't a massive need for him to be rushed into the system and go, 'we're now going to pin the hopes of Irish rugby on this kid's head' in the same way it happened to Brian (O'Driscoll).
"We've been afforded, and he's been afforded, a nice gradual curve, which is exactly what you want.
"The guy sitting across from me (Luke Fitzgerald) and every young kid I've played with in Leinster, when they got drip fed into a team with internationals in the side and when they got a taste or exposure to the international scene either with the As or with that game between the two bigger teams (Canada in this instance) they've usually developed really, really well.
"He's now played two big games back-to-back. He's played a lot of minutes this year and he looks like he's ready for the next step up. But do bear in mind that it is another step up and bear in mind the next step up has a ladder at the end because you're playing the All Blacks."
D'Arcy has been equally impressed with the way in which Henshaw has slotted seamlessly into the Leinster team.
It is easy to forget that Henshaw only turned 23 this year and with 22 international caps already to his name, looks assured of being a mainstay in the side for years to come.
The former Connacht player may feel that he can offer more than just being a ball carrying inside centre and the truth is that he can, but outside of him, he appears to have a perfect foil in Ringrose.
D'Arcy himself knows a thing or two about the importance of building the same centre partnership at club and country and he believes that Henshaw is still improving as a player.
"He is living up to the hype," D'Arcy enthuses. "He looks like he would challenge himself a lot. I know from the brief amount of time we spent together from camps, training sessions and playing against him, that he's a competitor.
"Hitting the ground running in the first match against Munster would have been perfect for him. You can definitely see he's concentrating on the basics.
"That's carrying the ball well, making sure he tackles well and anything on top of that is a bonus. He's looking to build on solid foundations, get his confidence up. It is starting to creep up. He's had three really good, strong performances back-to-back-to-back.
"You can see that development with Garry in the centre. They are starting to look like they understand each other's movements. That is encouraging."
Henshaw seized his opportunity on the international stage when it was presented to him three years ago. Ringrose is now ready and waiting to follow the same path.