George Hook: Ringrose omission shows nothing has been learned from World Cup debacle
Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30
The number of superstars born out of an early introduction to their chosen sport is more than these pages can accommodate. Even if we take rugby union as one example, there are dozens of young men that exploded onto the world stage early and went on to have distinguished careers with the oval ball.
New Zealand are world leaders in this regard, but their southern hemisphere counterparts in Australia and South Africa are beginning to catch on. In Ireland, however, an old-fashioned, hob-nailed approach leaves us stuck in the mud.
In the aftermath of yesterday's Ireland squad announcement, I read and listened to many of the arguments against including Garry Ringrose for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship and each one was as ill-informed as the decision that preceded it.
Keen rugby fans have been well aware of the centre's talent for some time now, even pre-dating his original cameo in the Ireland squad in November 2014. At that stage, a then 19-year-old Ringrose was turning heads in Carton House to such a degree that he attracted glowing praise from Paul O'Connell and Tommy Bowe.
His performances for Ireland U-20s last year also stood him apart when, even with an under-performing pack, Ringrose commanded the attention of opposition defences. His nomination for Junior World Player of the Year speaks for itself.
This season, despite excelling in the limited opportunities given to him at Leinster, Ringrose has inexplicably been overlooked by Joe Schmidt. In the space of two years, Ringrose has apparently gone backwards in the mind of the Ireland head coach.
Ringrose's omission should be a massive disappointment for fans of the game, though I am not surprised that Schmidt has overlooked Ireland's brightest young talent.
Indeed, amid the clamour to congratulate the Ireland coach for his daring selection of just four new faces - how many will actually be involved in the match-day squad come kick-off against Wales on Sunday week? - it was immediately clear that Schmidt opted against bringing some of the more deserving young names through, in favour of sticking with the jaded predictability of the tried and the trusted.
Now, as the cycle towards Japan 2019 begins in earnest, Schmidt has once again displayed his innate conservatism. And, over the next three years, Irish rugby will be worse off for it.
What to expect over the next two months? Well, as far as the IRFU is concerned, the sacred cash cow that is the Six Nations precedes all other imponderables in terms of importance. Why should player development and the blooding of new talent get in the way of balancing the books come the end of March?
And, if Ireland play outdated, dull rugby in the process, what harm?
If last year's World Cup taught us anything, it's that Ireland and the rest of Europe is falling further behind the southern hemisphere when it comes to effective, running rugby. And yes, the wonderful irony of the Celtic Nations all being coached by southern hemisphere imports has not escaped me. It merely serves to compound what is already a hugely frustrating scenario.
Because if Schmidt had any serious designs about dragging Ireland out of the tedious, kick-chase, anti-offload style of rugby that has dominated his Irish tenure, he would have selected a different squad of players to compete in the Six Nations next month.
Even casual rugby fans will have noticed Tiernan O'Halloran and Matt Healy blazing a trail for Connacht over the past few months. Similarly, Jack O'Donoghue, with his aggression, quick feet and soft hands, has impressed, even in the face of Munster's woes this season.
Instead of picking guys that will almost certainly - barring injury - become the mainstay of Ireland's World Cup squad in 2019, Schmidt has opted to continue with the majority of the players that so badly under-performed against Argentina last year, many of whom will not be around in three years' time.
And, should Ireland go on to win another Six Nations title in March, I'm quite certain that the powers-that-be in the IRFU - the same guys that insist there is no alarming slump in the form of the provinces this season - will clap Schmidt on the back for another job well done and head off into the sunset to count the profits for another year. A win, is a win, is a win. Right?
All the while, the southern hemisphere nations look on in bemusement at the same old tired tactics, by the same bunch of guys that got so badly found out by the Pumas last year and wonder, among themselves, how it is that Ireland cannot see the wood from the trees?
In the meantime, Ireland's brightest rugby coach prepares to pack his bags at the end of this season and leave London for pastures new.
If the IRFU had any sense, they would go cap-in-hand and beg Conor O'Shea to bring his expertise home. Alas, for the time being, it will not happen.
Forza, my old friend. I wish you every success.