'I haven't felt out of my depth'
As his star continues to rise, Garry Ringrose tells Ruaidhri O'Connor that he is in no rush to the top
As Garry Ringrose negotiates each step along the professional ladder with the same calm assurance and deft touch, the rewards keep coming thick and fast.
On the pitch, he started last season hoping for a few senior appearances during the World Cup and finished with a place in Leinster's starting XV for the Guinness Pro12 final.
Success between the white lines brings with it other perks like the senior contract he signed towards the end of the campaign and the endorsement deal he has penned with Audi that brings with it a new set of wheels. The next challenge for the 21-year-old is getting his driving licence.
Up until now, there simply hasn't been time. While progressing from Blackrock College senior cup winner to Leinster starter, he has also been studying for his degree in Business and Law at Belfield and taking lifts to training.
The way he has handled himself over the course of his short, but hugely impressive professional career the driving test will be a doddle. After all, if he can handle Bundee Aki in full flow, he can negotiate a three-point turn.
Ringrose appears largely unaffected by the attention that surrounds him. He may be heir apparent to Brian O'Driscoll, but he shrugs off the accolades easily.
For him, this is all one big learning curve and he is happy to bide his time and wait for those above him to deem him ready for higher honours.
Joe Schmidt has kept Ringrose close and he was in last month's post-South Africa tour debrief and is likely to be part of the wider squad for the November Tests.
He is patiently biding his time until the New Zealander thinks he is ready. Whether the call comes against Canada in November or later in the year, he is not forcing the issue. All he can do is continue to manage each step up as he has done so far.
"It's all kind of gradual. You don't really all of a sudden feel out of your depth, thankfully I've had the opportunity to play U-20s for two years so I got that exposure," he reflects.
"The biggest step was playing in an inter-pro last year, that was pretty cool in terms of the intensity involved in the days leading up, in what it means and you know the opposition well. Playing in Thomond Park against Munster was a pretty cool experience.
"But it's just gradual and it's building, trying to adapt.
"At No 13 anyway it can be tough enough to play at times. The opposition I've gotten the chance to play against hasn't been fun sometimes as well.
"You're always thrown something new, whether it's away against Dragons or a European game or an inter-pro, there's always something new and it's about adapting and then when it does go alright it does give you a bit of confidence.
"When it doesn't work out, to go back and review it and realise that the things that went wrong are fixable."
That patience is echoed by Ringrose's approach to the gym. Officially, he weighs in at 83kg which would have made him the lightest No 13 at last year's Six Nations where the average weight of the outside centres was 93kg. Yet, he says there is little pressure on his shoulders to amass bulk quickly.
"Leinster are brilliant, they have the same attitude as I have to it. It's gradual progress, it wouldn't be effective to put on weight over a short period of time because it would have a negative impact on other areas of the game," he explains.
"Everyone in Leinster's trying to get better and become the most all-round player possible. It's no different for me, it's trying to get better each day and we do have the opportunity to do that. So, it's just about trying to keep it ticking over and put on a kilo or two without compromising speed or skill or taking away from the time you put into them. You come up against all shapes and sizes at centre, everyone has a different threat but you just have to box clever sometimes. You can bridge the size gap."
You might imagine that trying to read Francis Saili's footwork or stop Aki in full flight would be the biggest challenge that the Dubliner has faced in the last 12 months, but the real struggle has been finding a balance off the field.
"It's tricky to nail down one thing, it's almost the challenge of outside the hours when you're in Leinster," he says. "I'm studying Business and Law in UCD and that presents challenges like exams, tutorials... It's learning to manage that as best as possible.
"Outside hours, whether it's recovery or trying to learn from the games and doing your work while you have to study and do the kind of work where no one is telling you what to, the work you do when no one's looking, it's probably something that's difficult. But it was enjoyable as well, it's part of being professional."
UCD's flexibility helps, but with a senior contract secured, stardom beckoning and endorsements coming his way you could forgive Ringrose for wanting to jack the course in but his maturity shines through when he explains his reasons for sticking with it.
"It's tough, but it's important for my parents and for me to have another string to my bow in case the rugby doesn't work out, to have a back-up plan so I can hit the ground running if it doesn't go well," he says.
"You pour so much into the rugby and it is so intense that having something else to take your mind off the game."
The recent retirements of two members of Blackrock's 2006 Senior Cup-winning team, Luke Fitzgerald and Niall Morris, are a warning to everyone at Leinster of the fickle nature of their careers.
It may make young players more hungry for success, but alternatively it serves as a warning against rushing youngsters into senior action too soon.
"It is a reminder to make the most of the time you have; to work as hard as possible and leave no stone unturned," Ringrose reflects.
"The structures are in place so that if someone is good enough they'll be picked, but then it is about balancing that development.
"Someone like Luke was definitely good enough to play at that level, he was pretty awesome once he left school. But you focus on the nearest challenge, trying to get better each day and usually it pans out in the right path."
Ringrose trusts in his coaches to make those decisions for him.
If he keeps growing into the Leinster No 13 shirt, he will force the issue with his actions. That's the focus - that and the driving test.
To celebrate the launch of the Audi Future Now 171 Sales Event, Leinster rugby player Garry Ringrose (pictured with the new Audi A3 Sportback) has been unveiled as Audi Ireland's newest brand ambassador. Visit www.audi.ie.