Garry Ringrose taking centre stage in his stride
Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30
There is a real carnival atmosphere on match days at the World Rugby U-20 Championship with three games taking place at each venue and a great chance to see players from six countries in the one go.
The BBQs are cranked up - although for the opening two days they could have nearly cooked the food on the ground! - the picnics are opened up and the water and beer flows as the next generation of internationals display their wares on the pitch.
There are no match programmes so aside from the guy on the tannoy naming the scorers, supporters are at a bit of a loss trying to identify players. That, in turn, led to a steady stream of people from all over the world to the press benches in Parma and Calvisano asking 'who's the Irish 13'?
If all goes to plan then Garry Ringrose is set to become the next star of Irish rugby. Hard to believe then that just over a year ago he was dropped from the Irish U-20 squad. But that, in many ways, is what has propelled him on the fast-track.
The Blackrock man doesn't have an ounce of criticism for Mike Ruddock for doing that, although he admits it hurt at the time, but he is grateful to the former Six Nations Grand Slam-winning coach for giving him the jolt that has seen him take off.
He was cut after two games in the U-20 Six Nations, told what to work on, came back and made the squad for the World Championships in New Zealand and by the end of it was one of three nominated for IRB Junior Player of the Year.
"I had a ropey enough Six Nations which people forgot about. I started the first two games last year and then was cut after that so I wasn't involved in the last three.
"That was a knock to the confidence but I took on board what coaches were criticising. Mike Ruddock helped me along in terms of what I needed to improve on and pointed me in the right direction and luckily I played in an Ireland U-19s game against France which was my next outing for Ireland after being cut from the U-20s. Having worked on my weaknesses, I managed to put a few things right and was picked to go in the World Cup.
"There was a combination of things," he says, when asked what shortcomings were highlighted. "There is always room for improvement and I certainly wouldn't be comfortable at the moment anyway. I am still trying to improve as much as possible.
"There were a few defensive issues because it can be a bit tricky at 13, there was inexperience more than anything and once I got the knowledge and more games at that intensity, the more I learned.
"It was a bit of a turnaround I suppose, a bit of luck went my way. What I have learnt now is you do need a bit of luck to go your way for things to go well.
"I was just keeping my head and trying to work hard and firstly putting my hand up for selection and when I was lucky enough to get selected it was just trying to impact and benefit the team as much as possible. So thankfully it worked out in the end," he said.
The flashes of brilliance, particularly the instinctive stuff which oozes confidence, has injected the class in Ireland's opening wins over Argentina and Scotland.
Ringrose can't wait for another tilt at New Zealand though, having rattled them in their own backyard last year before the Baby Blacks pulled away. Over half a dozen of tonight's side were involved in that game.
"We are just relishing the challenge, it is on the world stage against one of the best underage teams in the world. It is a huge challenge, but a huge opportunity for us as a squad to grab the bull by the horns and take full advantage.
"It helps having played them, it is not as intimidating. I have seen the Haka before, so it is not as bad as it might look on TV. Playing them last year I have an appreciation for the style they play and they have an incredible counter-attack so our kick-chase is going to have to be spot on.
"You give them an inch they take a mile, that sort of way. They are just incredibly accurate and precise but I would like to think we have similar qualities in our team and there are guys in our 23 or our 28 that can produce similar moments of brilliance."
His manner throughout the interview in the team hotel in Brescia is modest and helpful. His aunt is waiting to meet him in the lobby. He puts her at ease and then stresses he is no rush with the interview, instead he is thankful to be asked to chat.
Whatever about the comparisons on the field, you can see why those who have worked with both see a huge similarity with Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw, two rock-solid young men taking it all in their stride.
He has heard the comparisons with Henshaw, and even O'Driscoll. He's chuffed by them but there is no danger of getting carried away with anything. He's just taking it all as it happens, loving it all and can't wait to see what's around the next corner.
"From my point of view, I'm not ignoring it (the hype) but I just stick to what I think I need to progress and stick to what I think my weaknesses and strengths are and get as much advice off the coaches here, the coaches back at Leinster and the coaches at my club, UCD, as well.
"I know I am by no means the finished product, not even close to it. It will just be in my head trying to improve my weaknesses and maintain a lot of positives.
"I am blessed with all of the coaches I have around me and also the players. You learn so much, there is a ton of competition here at Irish U-20s, UCD and Leinster academy. I am lucky to be in the position I am in."
Not half as lucky as Leinster and Ireland are to have this guy coming down the tracks.