Joe Schmidt calls up Ringrose as Leo Cullen seeks to tone down hype
Newest Leinster midfield star primed for Six Nations role
Published 01/01/2016 | 02:30
Although already anointed, it seems, as the special one for 2016 by his gilded predecessor in a 13 jersey, Leinster coach Leo Cullen has sought to dim the hype surrounding his midfield wunderkind Garry Ringrose.
Brian O'Driscoll was moved enough by the underage star's performance in the Thomond Park win last weekend to suggest that Ireland coach Joe Schmidt could do worse than pitch him into the side for the Six Nations opener against Wales next month.
And, while the national coach rarely heeds counsel from beyond his Clonskeagh bunker, the Kiwi has rushed to include Ringrose in his large gathering this weekend, a one-day camp on Sunday as Ireland plot a hat-trick of northern hemisphere titles.
And, although predecessors like O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy were plunged into international waters when their faces were still dotted with teenage fluff and acne, Cullen has sought to limit the euphoria about what is undoubtedly a star in the making.
"You don't want to put undue pressure on young players for sure," said Cullen, who must be given credit for persisting with the blooding so many youngsters - Josh van der Flier is another who will meet up with prospective Irish colleagues on Sunday.
"It's a hard one. Before Christmas, Garry was doing his exams because he is a full-time student. We had to balance a lot of that for him in terms of giving him time off.
"He's definitely someone we have earmarked to have a big involvement with Leinster for a large number of years. But it's about bringing guys through in the right fashion and giving them exposure when they can have positive experiences.
"That is why we gave him a bit of leeway last month because he had those exams. We feel that being a student is a really important part of a player's development from out of the Academy. They have to do their courses and get on with that at this time of the year.
"As for the Six Nations, it's great that he got named in that Ireland squad and that sort of exposure will be important for him as well.
"But the decisions on where he plays beyond that is obviously someone else's call. However, he's definitely one for the future and we will try to manage him as best we can and do what is right for him."
Ringrose's captain in the RDS this evening, in their Pro12 clash against Connacht, will be Rhys Ruddock, who knows all about the shouldering of expectations.
He was sprung into action as a teenager on an Antipodean tour five years ago but a combination of injury and the stiffest of competition in his back-row position blunted the sharp intake of breath that greeted his impressive debut from the bench against Australia in Brisbane.
"He is a very down-to-earth guy and hard-working and I can't see him getting carried away," Ruddock demurs.
"I think he deals with the pressures pretty well and when you look at his performances he seems to be consistently playing well when he gets a chance. So yes he seems to be dealing with it at a young age pretty well.
"A lot of it is about the body and being physically strong enough to play week after week, winning the collisions that you have to take on the field, and getting up for it again the next week, then being physically ready to go out again and do it.
"Mentally as well, just being confident in your own ability sometimes takes different guys a little bit longer than others.
"But having that kind of self-belief, and believing that, even though you haven't got as much experience as the guy opposite you, that you've got the ability, is a really big part of it.
"Looking at the way Garry has been playing, it's obvious that he has shown that he deserves to be there, and he's every bit capable of playing at that level.
"In terms of how long it takes, it's different for everyone, but it seems like Garry is a long way to doing it already.
"He's only really been playing for a couple of months and he already seems every bit capable in terms of his mental application and physicality.
"I know some people might think that he looks quite slight but he's a tall kind of physical guy. I don't see that being a problem for him."
While it remains to be seen whether Ringrose may yet cause any headaches for Welsh coach Warren Gatland - the man who gave O'Driscoll his debut before he played for Leinster and nearly capped D'Arcy in his Leaving Cert year - other rival coaches are beginning to sit up and take notice.
"I know when I first arrived here people were saying we don't have this, we don't have that," said Connacht coach Pat Lam, addressing the wider sense of anguish that Irish rugby's stocks may be rapidly depleting.
"But there's plenty of talent and it is what you do with it. Fair play, I saw Garry Ringrose play for the U-20s but not only in Leinster, in Munster and Ulster, right throughout the country there is some serious talent.
"It is how to develop them, it is how you grow them. And obviously the culture and the type of rugby you play. If you give them belief and confidence they will come through.
"Sometimes there are a lot of doomsayers around and we tend to look over the fence and think what this country has got this and that country has got that. Certainly Garry is someone who is making the most of his talent, which is great."
Ringrose is the future; Ian Madigan, soon enough, will be the past although Cullen conceded that the Scottish weather may have scuppered any lingering hopes of him remaining here.
"Ian was due to start against Glasgow and that game got called off," revealed Cullen.
"He ran the team really, really well that week and it was just unfortunate that the game got called off due to that waterlogged pitch.
"If he had played well he gave himself a better shot at making selections later down the track but unfortunately that never materialised.
"That would have been part of my thinking and whether Ian would have made that decision to go regardless, you have to ask him."