Comment: Garry Ringrose showed once again that he's ready to be Ireland's long term number 13
Garry Ringrose showed real promise against France on Saturday and demonstrated that he is more than ready to be Ireland's long term option at outside centre.
There's always been an air of inevitability about Garry Ringrose's Ireland prospects. Ever since the talented Blackrock College product starred for the Ireland U-20's at the 2014 IRB Junior World Championships in New Zealand, there's always been a sense of 'when' rather than 'if' for Ringrose and his international rugby hopes.
A breakout season with Leinster last year, and strong displays for Leo Cullen's side this season, led to Ringrose's inclusion in Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad for the November internationals in 2016, but there was something admittedly opportunistic about Ringrose's selection.
Luke Fitzgerald had just retired from rugby in the summer, Keith Earls was suspended for the first game against New Zealand in Chicago, and the versatile Tommy Bowe had just returned from a long term knee injury that had sidelined him until the start of October.
A combination of injuries to senior players, and Ringrose's undeniably strong performances with Leinster at the start of the season, had paved the way for the underage star to finally make the jump from promising provincial player to burgeoning international.
On the 5th of November, Ringrose finally got his chance on the international stage, after he was named on the Ireland bench for the opening end-of-year-international with New Zealand in Chicago.
Ringrose watched the entirety of Ireland's historic win over the All Blacks from the sidelines, but one week later he was handed his international debut in a 52-21 demolition job of Canada in Dublin.
Ringrose played the full 80 minutes against the Canadians at the Aviva and showed flashes of his potential against a Canucks side that was ultimately outmatched and outclassed by a largely inexperienced Irish side.
The Canada game served as the perfect introduction to international rugby for Ringrose, a home Test in his native Dublin against a Tier 2 nation that Ireland were easily expected to beat.
Ringrose fared well in his international debut but in the following Test against New Zealand there was no wading in process for the youngster, as he was thrown into the deep end by Joe Schmidt, replacing Robbie Henshaw just 10 minutes in after the inside centre was on the receiving end of a harrowing collision with All Blacks flanker Sam Cane.
The 22-year-old survived his baptism by fire and performed admirably in the white hot intensity of one of the most bruising, physical Test matches of 2016. His commendable performances in November, and his strong displays with Leinster over the winter period, had earned him a spot at outside centre for Ireland's Six Nations opener with Scotland.
Whether it was pre-match jitters in his first Six Nations start, or the after effects of a misguided bus journey, Ringrose was one of many Irish players who struggled against a stout and aggressive Scottish defence.
Ringrose was consistently stifled by a stingy Scottish rearguard as he battled all afternoon just to get over the gainline, and defensively he didn't fare much better, as he was caught hopelessly out of position for Stuart Hogg's first try of the game.
He played the full 80 minutes in Edinburgh but had a rather forgettable afternoon. He bounced back against Italy, along with many of his Ireland teammates, but the test of French duo Gael Fickou and Remi Lamerat was always going to be a much sterner examination of his international credentials.
But from the outset against France on Saturday, Ringrose looked threatening. Ireland went to him early and often in attack and he always looked like he was just about to break through the French line, which was easier said than done given that France had completed 212 of 229 tackles, a 93% success rate for those keeping score.
Ringrose's timing and ability to identify the gaps in the opposition's defence was as good as it's ever been at this level, as his on-field understanding with Henshaw and Johnny Sexton continues to prosper.
When Ireland head to Cardiff to take on Wales in two weeks time, Ringrose and Henshaw will most likely have to face the formidable pairing of Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies, but on Saturday against France we saw real evidence that the Henshaw-Ringrose partnership is fit for international rugby, a welcoming prospect for Ireland for both the present and for the future.