Joe Schmidt: BOD text me about Garry Ringrose, but we need to keep building his confidence
Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30
All week, Joe Schmidt's focus has been firmly on the big show ahead.
He has plenty on his plate as he attempts to do what no coach has done before and win three Six Nations titles in a row, but tonight he will find a feed for Leinster's game in Wales and look to the future.
Leinster take on Dragons in Newport with a line-up largely made up of products of their vaunted academy, and all eyes will be on the centre, where Garry Ringrose makes his 11th senior appearance.
There is plenty of optimism about Leo Cullen's cubs, who looked so sharp against Bath two weeks ago, but the hype around the Blackrock College midfielder who has been anointed as the coming man by Brian O'Driscoll is bigger than the rest combined.
The legendary centre said Schmidt "could do worse" than pitch the youngster, who turned 21 on Tuesday, in against Wales on Sunday week, while Tony Ward and Shane Horgan have also argued for his inclusion in the Irish midfield.
Ringrose was subsequently involved in Ireland's pre-season camp, but did not make the final 35-man squad for the opening two games of the Six Nations.
O'Driscoll's words carry huge weight, but they don't appear to have placed an additional burden on the young man's shoulders.
Ringrose was outstanding against Bath, despite coming in for some heavy physical treatment, and was left out of last weekend's visit to Wasps in the knowledge that tonight's clash against the Dragons was the bigger game.
Schmidt heard his former charge's words loud and clear, but argues that the Pro12 remains the correct proving ground for the young man who still has some physical development to go.
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"Drico is iconic. Someone throwing some words out, they might be featherweight words, but Drico, he's a heavyweight because of his experience in the game, his knowledge of the position and his iconic status, so they are going to carry more weight," he acknowledged.
"We had Garry Ringrose in for a whole week in camp before the November Series the year before last so Garry Ringrose is not a guy who has suddenly sprung onto our radar. He has come in a few other times as well.
"We've tried to encourage him to be an extra part of the squad. What Garry Ringrose needs now is to keep building his confidence.
"Is putting him in against 110kg of hurtling Jamie Roberts or 104kg of footwork and fend that Jonathan Davies can deliver (the best thing for him)? Or is it sitting in the squad and not playing? Or is it him building that confidence that he's started to demonstrate through the Pro12 and one European start?
"This is a great window for him to get game-time.
"It doesn't mean we're not investing in him. We're investing in him because playing that Pro12 rugby is an opportunity for him to keep going."
Not only did O'Driscoll make his views known on Twitter, he privately got in touch with Schmidt to endorse Ringrose's claims as a contender for this year's Six Nations.
"He dropped me a text just to say that he thought Garry Ringrose was making really good progress. I'd have pretty good banter with Drico at any given time so it's not something that is a distraction," the head coach said.
"We try to work within the bubble that's productive and what's most productive is trying to get a squad that has a balance to it, trying to make sure that we have players who are physically ready and have the experience to go in and compete at what is an incredibly tough Championship, so it is a fine balance.
"I'd be the first to say, there's no way that I get every decision right because I don't think any human does.
"What you try to do is work harder than anyone else to have a look at the person's game, to communicate with that person and get a sense of where they're at and what they can feel confident doing and then you make the decision.
"One of the advantages for me is that I have access to all that information and the player to try and base those decisions upon and even then I don't get it right. Some of the time hopefully I do."
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Although his primary focus is on preparing the senior team for the tournament ahead, Schmidt is well aware of the talent coming through and knows that the coming month will offer opportunities up for plenty of Ringrose's peers.
Among his Leinster team-mates hoping to impress tonight are new captain Luke McGrath, who was also in the wider Ireland squad, hooker James Tracy, prop Peter Dooley, second-row Ross Molony and highly rated flanker Dan Leavy.
Opportunity will knock across the provinces, with Schmidt paying particular attention to Jack O'Donoghue's form at Munster, while Ulster flier Rory Scholes and returning star Stuart Olding should get plenty of game-time in the weeks to come.
"Jack O'Donoghue has done a great job this year. He;s probably been moved around because Tommy (O'Donnell) got injured," said Schmidt.
"Jack's mostly played at the back of the scrum and he's been playing on the openside of the scrum and it's a different challenge for him, but he's been so robust and resilient. He's a player we've earmarked for a while.
"I watched those U-20s play against New Zealand in that 3rd-4th place play-off and Peter Dooley is another guy who really, really impressed us, so those guys are starting to work their way through the system.
"Do we accelerate the system and get them in there at the risk of them losing a bit of confidence or potentially getting them knocked around or injured? Or do we have players at the moment who we maintain and hopefully progress with them and they get driven on by these young guys that feed in.
"Josh van der Flier's a good example, Ultan Dillane is a good example, of guys who are starting to feed in, starting to apply some of that pressure and hopefully that will drive on the guys who are currently there or, let's be honest, they'll drive past them and they'll get the jerseys.
"So it's very competitive, hopefully, and a longer term view.
"The Six Nations is not the place to blood young players necessarily. That's the very height of the game in Europe.
"They filter in through the Pro12 and then into Europe and then into the Test arena. That would be the normal way it happens, although sometimes a player vaults one of those qualification areas."
Right now, Ringrose is the cause celebre with the highest-profile backer going, but he will have to bide his time in the league for now.
He does so safe in the knowledge that Schmidt will be watching events in Rodney Parade and noting his progress. His time isn't now, but it isn't too far away.