Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ringrose debut offers glimpse of Joe Schmidt's planning towards World Cup

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David Kelly

David Kelly

If beating the All Blacks was one of the prime motives in Joe Schmidt determining whether or not he wanted to stay on as Ireland coach, in a strange way so was the prospect of beating Canada this week.

An entirely new XV may feature a trio of former Lions players and a clutch of seasoned pros, but the slew of new talent - even a grizzled 31-year-old lock from the traditional Munster old school - offers glimpses of a bright future that energises a coach who demands constant renewal from himself and those around him.

Sure, there were family reasons and though it may seem indecent to say it, one is sure that Schmidt, his family and his accountants would have ensured that one of the world's most sought-after coaches was also handsomely rewarded for the gig.

However, it is the ever constant husbanding of new talent which drives any head coach on and, even though the World Cup, his final engagement, remains a distant three years away, that remaining glass ceiling for Irish rugby may be shattered by some of those lining out against the Maple Leafs tomorrow evening.

And, in publicly stressing his commitment to Ireland's 2017 summer tour, in a most polite but firm rebuttal to the Lions' brains trust, his excitement at the cadre of players brimming beneath the heroes of Soldier Field is clearly evident.

"Part of it is that I really enjoy this group," revealed Schmidt, after unveiling a first XV that is entirely altered from that which downed the All Blacks in Chicago so stunningly last Saturday.

"I think we have a really cohesive coaching team as well. Obviously there are a lot of family-based reasons as well that really made a difference and there were also some of the other opportunities that were around.

"But there's a lot of talent coming through as well. And it's about trying to meld it into a really strong collective who work hard for each other but also who complement each other on the pitch.

"You always look for new players. You maybe play a dozen tests a year so you don't get too many windows to actually allow people to put their hand up other than watching them very closely in Europe and in derby games.

"But to play at the next level up, that is where you want to see them best and that is where the opportunity allows us to do it this week.

"At the same time, the guys who delivered last week and who are not available this week have also given us good service so we are always trying to mix and match.

"So hopefully over the next year or so, in the Six Nations, then the US and Japan coming up, we will be able to work our way through that group and have a really good look at that."

That process begins in earnest tomorrow evening and much of the focus will alight upon the unassuming shoulders of the exciting Leinster centre Garry Ringrose.

"I first saw Garry in his senior cup year playing for Blackrock College," recalls Schmidt of the 21-year-old.

"He was kicking goals then from all over the place and he had a super game in the final and was really impressive.

"He was very lean, but quite a natural footballer and so I felt there was some talent there without a doubt.

"He sees things and he's very ahead of the game because he reads the game early.

"While being lean, he's strong. It allows him to just avoid those full contacts and slip past players or slip half through a tackle and still get over the gain-line.

"At the same time defensively, being as astute as he is, we're hoping that allows him to control a little bit of what they're trying to do to us.


"He was really close to playing last week. He's trained really well, he's given us confidence that's he's ready and I don't doubt that he's confident and wants to get started.

"There's a bit of experience either side of him, so it's a nice entry into the Test arena."

At No 8, Jack O'Donoghue's impressive form and versatility at Munster for over a season now has also earned him a first call-up, the last of the three debutant starters with five more expected to figure from off the bench.

"Jack first impressed me at U-20 level, particularly when he led the U-20s in New Zealand to the semi-finals.

"I spoke to him out there and he impressed me as a guy who was very level-headed and very driven to get to the highest possible level."

Irish Independent

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