Monday 21 August 2017

Centre stage beckons for trailblazer Ringrose

O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald back Leinster starlet to continue rise and shine at highest level

Ireland's Garry Ringrose. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Garry Ringrose. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It's almost exactly two years to the day that a fresh-faced 20-year-old - confident, but modest in the extreme - spoke with a small number of journalists in a Dublin hotel shadowed by the glow of the Aviva Stadium.

It was the first of his international media duties, and everyone in the room knew it would certainly not be the last.

When the same smile lit up the Aviva mixed zone 21 months later, after he had made his Test debut, the mind wandered back to that afternoon in the hotel.

Garry Ringrose had spoken about the excitement of the previous year that had seem him nominated for World U-20 Player of the Year but he was keen to stress the importance of staying focused on the U-20s Six Nations.

After he won his first full cap against Canada last November, the message had remained the same as he attempted to take stock of his meteoric rise.

Destined

When you're destined for the top from a young age, patience is key and Ringrose has always had the right people around him to help him on his way.

In Blackrock, they spoke of the new kid on the block who had the potential to become 'the next Brian O'Driscoll' but Ireland's most capped player continues to politely shrug off the comparisons.

"I would not do the guy a disservice by making any comparison," O'Driscoll insists. "He's his own guy. He's got a low-slung style of running. He's difficult to tackle. His evasion skills are excellent. He can step off both feet.

"He seems to have a little bit more time than other players to get himself out of a hole when he finds himself down a dark alley. So I think he has all the right attributes to be a big success at 13."

Few have blazed such an impressive trail in school as Ringrose did - he capped a sensational season when he inspired Blackrock to Senior Cup glory in 2013.

With such talent comes pressure but Ringrose thrived on it throughout his time in Blackrock and later with the Ireland U-20s.

The comparisons with O'Driscoll have remained and his three performances for the Ireland seniors have heightened the expectation on his young shoulders.

Luke Fitzgerald, perhaps more than most, can understand how to channel that pressure in the right way. After all, he is another Blackrock graduate who was spoken about glowingly from a similarly young age.

"I hate putting that kind of pressure on a guy but I just think he has a great head on his shoulders," Fitzgerald says of the comparisons between Ringrose and O'Driscoll.

"He has friends inside and outside of rugby that keep him grounded. Inside, they are all up and comers and outside, they don't even like rugby. He is very humble, works really hard and doesn't get too far ahead of himself.

"In terms of the physical side of the game I think he is just going to progress and progress. I hope he reaches those heights."

On Saturday, Ringrose will get his first taste of the Six Nations. Still only 22, the centre has the world at his feet.

Joe Schmidt's decision to ignore the cacophony of calls for Ringrose to be introduced to the international stage has inevitably been proven correct.

While he remains the same elusive runner that toyed with schools players as if he was operating on another planet, he has added considerable bulk to his frame without losing any of the speed that is sure to set the Six Nations alight in the coming weeks.

"I first saw him when he trained with us (Irish squad)," O'Driscoll recalls. "He was just coming out of school and he was part of the U-20s. They came down to train in Carton House and you could tell immediately that he had something different from his peers.

"He just had a rugby intellect as to what lines to run. He had nice hands. I remember him standing out.

"When you're focused on playing one of the Six Nations teams you can only pay so much attention to the U-20 opposition but I do remember vividly thinking that this guy has got something special.

"And then I couldn't believe that he was back training with us later on after he had been dropped from the 20s because there were other guys being retained that weren't nearly as good as him. So it was pretty evident."

In November, Ringrose proved that he can handle the rigorous physical demands of Test rugby.

Going up against Malakai Fekitoa and Tevita Kuridrani will stand to him in the Six Nations but regardless of who he comes up against, he won't be fazed. It is simply not in his nature.

Improved

His defence has improved immeasurably and with Jared Payne ruled out for the foreseeable future, it will need to continue to do so if Ireland are to win the Six Nations.

"It (defence) is an underrated part of Garry's game," Fitzgerald says. "He is really, really good. He's technically excellent in the tackle and makes a lot of good reads because it is a difficult position to defend from."

O'Driscoll agrees: "I think defensively he's able to survive as well at this level because he reads it a bit quicker than everyone else and he has the impetus on impact.

"Before people get a head of steam, before people have a chance to see the space or see where their target is, he's already hit them.

"He's coming together very nicely and not shouting from the rooftops. He's going about his business really well."

Arrogance has never been part of Ringrose's make-up and judging by what we have seen so far, that isn't likely to change.

During that conversation back in February 2015, he told us: "I'm not going to sit still or get comfortable. There's a lot going on but in my head it's quite simple, I'm just focusing on each day."

Two years later, a different stage is set and it is one that Ringrose was born to perform on.

Irish Independent

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