Wednesday 20 September 2017

‘Garry doesn’t deserve to be dropped’ - Luke Fitzgerald backs Ringrose with Jared Payne return looming

Garry Ringrose in action against France and (inset) Luke Fitzgerald on this week's episode of The Left Wing
Garry Ringrose in action against France and (inset) Luke Fitzgerald on this week's episode of The Left Wing

Jack O'Toole

Former Ireland winger Luke Fitzgerald has backed Leinster centre Garry Ringrose to retain his place in the Irish midfield despite Jared Payne’s recent return from a kidney injury.

Payne, who has been a regular under Ireland coach Joe Schmidt since qualifying for the national team in 2014, returned for Ulster on Sunday playing the final 20 minutes in their s 40-17 win over Zebre in Parma.

The New Zealander has made a full recovery from a kidney injury that has sidelined him for the last three months, but Fitzgerald feels that it will be tough for the 31-year-old to work his way back into the Ireland team given Ringrose’s form and Simon Zebo’s versatility.

“He’s a superb rugby player,” Fitzgerald said on the Independent.ie’s rugby show The Left Wing.

“He was brilliant playing Super Rugby, he’s been brilliant for Ulster, and he’s been excellent for Ireland as well. It will be interesting to see how he comes back, I’m pretty sure they’ll be watching that pretty closely, because that was a pretty serious injury he got to his kidney, an area you wouldn't want to be messing around with too much, but I’d be leaving Garry Ringrose in there.

“I think he’s done a good job and he’s only going to get better. He’s the future for us in that position and I’d be surprised if he took him out at this stage, even though he’ll probably want to try and fit Payne in somewhere. I might be wrong on that one, but it’s just my own opinion, and if Rob is injured I’d probably put Simon in there.

“It will be hard to drop either of the guys especially after a performance like that on the weekend. You never beat France lightly but if Rob’s carrying an injury, then there’s an opportunity then to probably bring in Jared without dropping Garry, and I don’t think Garry deserves to be dropped.”

Ringrose was very impressive against France on Saturday and showed flashes of the brilliance that has made him such a success with Leinster this season.

At 22, Ringrose is playing in his first Six Nations campaign with Ireland, and while Fitzgerald admits it will be a steep learning curve for the former Blackrock star, he insists that the former World Rugby Junior Player of the Year nominee has all the right tools to succeed as Ireland’s long term option at outside centre.

“He’s playing some really good rugby,” added Fitzgerald.

“I think he’s still learning the position a little bit but it’s a big challenge playing Six Nations rugby. He’s learning that and I think he’s a guy that’s going to get exponentially better for me. 

“Maybe it’s the Leinster bias, but I don’t think so, I think he’s got a great head on his shoulder and I think it’s the reason he’s been touted by all the top guys.

“Brian O’Driscoll, who obviously knows the position better than anyone in world rugby, thinks he’s going to be a top quality player.

“I think he needs time in the position, I think Joe thinks he’s a top quality operator, I know he’s a guy he’d like because he’s humble, he works hard and he’s only going to get better for me.

“I think it would be wrong to drop him at this stage. I think he’s doing a good job.”

Schmidt said that the Ireland coaching staff would review the footage of Ulster’s win over Zebre before deciding whether or not to call Payne back in to Ireland camp.

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