Ringrose not safe

Aki making a strong case to partner Henshaw in Japan

Garry Ringrose of Ireland on his way to scoring a try which was subsequently disallowed during the match against Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff

Des Berry

Eight men played some part in the three of Ireland's World Cup warm-ups to this point.

Just one of them - Devin Toner - failed to make the final cut in what was the shock omission.

Immediately, this indicates coach Joe Schmidt gave the Moynalvey man enough time to put his best foot forward.

Since then, Schmidt has turned towards the scrum as a reason to explain the inclusion of Jean Kleyn ahead of Toner.

However, the scrum has never been a problem for Ireland as a means of providing a proper platform for the half-backs.

It is in the other power areas, the maul, the ruck, on the fringes, in the collisions that Kleyn can bring his bulk to bear.

The evidence of the minutes played reveal how Schmidt was probably most occupied by, even perturbed at, the decision that had to be made in the second row.

The two starts given to Kleyn for a combined 115 minutes paled beside the 164 used by Iain Henderson, the most by any forward, and the healthy 133 played by Toner.

Of the four forwards to have played against Italy, England and Wales, three of them were locks Henderson, Toner and Tadhg Beirne (120).

This suggests Schmidt's deliberation over Toner was real and, possibly, Henderson had to deliver against Wales in Cardiff or face the prospect of swapping his boots for Toner's shoes just because they are the most experienced lineout callers in the system.

Andrew Conway is the best example of someone who began pre-season as a slender shot, only to grow into the three games, sealing his seat in his biggest impact against Wales last Saturday.

Conway played 166 minutes, just five minutes more than the next busiest back in Luke McGrath, who received the benefit of a close call over Kieran Marmion (83).

The real seismic story could be the time played by Garry Ringrose.

The centre has turned in more minutes than anyone else in the entire squad (180), even though his build, athletic profile and smarts strongly suggest he doesn't need as much time as so many others.

In fairness, the high minutes are partly explained by Schmidt's revelation that Ringrose's skills extend to manning a wing slot, where he was positioned for 20 minutes against Wales last Saturday, and even as an emergency option at out-half.


Bundee Aki (160) and Chris Farrell (160) have also gone the distance in both of their starts.

In addition, Robbie Henshaw will only become available for the first time this weekend.

Nonetheless, the spine of the Irish side - Jonathan Sexton has been injured - Rob Kearney (53), Conor Murray (35), Rory Best (82), James Ryan (51) and CJ Stander (80) or Jack Conan (80) has been noticeable for meagre minutes.

Last season, Ringrose entered into the most important time in his fledgling career as Ireland's number one outside centre with Henshaw, Aki and Farrell scrapping it out for the number twelve shirt.

Since then, Ringrose's form has been fallible.

There have been big moments in big games where he has hesitated, the most obvious coming from the failure to fire that pass where Leinster had a two-man overlap against Saracens.

There have also been three tackles missed in each of these three performances.

The tall, comparatively slight frame is accompanied by a razor-sharp brain and unquestionable bravery.

No one in Irish rugby puts his body on the line with more commitment.

It is just the margin for error for the lighter man diminishes quickly when faced with the likes of Englasd's Manu Tuilagi, Wales' Jonathan Davies and South African Damian de Allende, jobs possibly better suited to bigger man like Farrell and Aki.

Schmidt makes it his business to name check almost all the in-house players at one point or another.

What he does not do is go into detail, like he did last Tuesday week, in Carton House, highlighting Ringrose's contest with Tuilagi.

"If you look back closely at the game, a couple of the tackles Garry Ringrose makes on Manu Tuilagi are not for the faint-hearted," noted Schmidt.

"I think it was very physical the one he put on Joe Marler, who's a big man. But Marler, as big as he is, probably isn't as dynamic and powerful as Manu is.

"I just thought it was admirable the way he threw his body under the bus really and did such a good job."

Schmidt has done a good job too, in building competition in the centre to the point where Ringrose is under pressure for his place.