Monday 18 December 2017

Ringrose eager to be a stand-out stand-by Lions star

Garry Ringrose was a notable absentee from Warren Gatland’s initial Lions squad. Photo: Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose was a notable absentee from Warren Gatland’s initial Lions squad. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Sometimes an understudy has to make an opening to make an opening night.

Garry Ringrose did more than blow a hole in Clermont's defence when scything and slashing en route to score one of the tries of the season last month.

He also exploded the myth that his talent was too precocious to endure a Lions tour to New Zealand, and showed that it would be folly for Warren Gatland to exclude him from his comprehensive 41-man collective.

Which, of course, the Lions coach inevitably did.

Ringrose, an advertisement for polite self-effacement, wouldn't even deign to declare himself "disappointed" not to have made Gatland's original travelling party.

"I wouldn't quite use the word disappointment because it would suggest it would put a dampener on the other rugby I was playing at the moment," he says, politely. A rude interpretation would picture a two-fingered salute to the former Ireland coach.

No matter.

Gatland, on what seems to be the 97th week of media engagements since resuming the gig as head coach, revealed that he does indeed own a stand-by list but it is his alone and nobody else is allowed to view it.

Not even the players?

"As far as I know, Warren is quite right in saying he can't put out a stand-by list because so many things can change between now and then.

"There are a million different things. So to start naming a squad outside a squad, he could be shooting himself in the foot.

 

Aware

"As far as I'm aware there isn't, but I don't want to be saying anything I shouldn't say. As far as I am aware, there isn't a stand-by list…"

We shall save him from his choking further on his endlessly good manners; as we recall from history, all stand-by players are contracted to be same. Safe to say Ringrose will not be booking a Barbados holiday in July.

He will, for now, embark upon a tour to the US and Japan, from where he could be easily whisked southwards at a moment's notice should, as seems inevitable, a body cry off.

Ringrose's refusal to offer himself as a hostage to the potential fortune of becoming Leinster's sixth Lion of the summer is understandable coyness, rather than deception.

It contrasts with excluded England full-back Mike Brown's inflated opinion of his credentials, in stark contrast to his decline in ability.

Ringrose, instead, is full of humility as he recalls the squad announcement earlier this month.

"It was pretty exciting," he says. "I was thinking that four years previously I was sitting my Leaving Cert and watching the Lions announcement.

"I certainly wouldn't have been in a room with other lads expecting to hear names or even listening for my own name. There was a bit of buzz anyway because it was Champions Cup semi-final week.

"Six months ago I made my debut for Ireland and I didn't think I would ever be name-checked by Warren Gatland to do with the Lions; mind you I'm sure it was media suggested stuff."

Gatland, whose media engagements appear to be as arduous and as lengthy as the tour itself, has now referred to Ringrose directly.

"We're waiting for the club games to finish before we formalise a reserve list. For some positions, we've spoken about one or two players. We'll let the players know they're on standby and we'll let their unions know, but we won't publish a list," he said.

"The reason we won't publish a list is because we may want to change our minds - we don't want to back ourselves into a corner with a player who is right at the moment but maybe isn't later on.

"The best example of a player who was unlucky not to be picked in the original squad is Garry Ringrose, but if in the last week the weather forecast says it will be pelting it down, it could be that someone else comes in instead of him.

"In our minds we have players who we will notify for standby, but we also have to be flexible."

Quite what the New Zealand winter - generally, brutishly inclement - has to do with it is baffling: Ringrose can turn in a muddy field with the efficiency of any plough; he can heft a man of his own weight and a half.

For now, though, other furrows occupy his mind's eye; specifically, the Scarlets; amongst them a midfield rival, a certain Jonathan Davies, who, as fate decreed on the last leg of the last Lions tour, may owe his position to the exclusion of a Leinster midfield maestro.

This year's model appreciates Davies' qualities, however.

"He's an incredibly intelligent footballer," says Ringrose. "He has a skilful pass off both hands. He can put in intelligent little grubbers with his left foot if his team are being put under a lot of defensive pressure - he can turn you straight away.

"People sometimes focus on his physical attributes: he is a big guy and a really fast athlete. But he does have the skills to back it up, so he really is a tough challenge.

"I got to play against him at the Millennium Stadium, which wasn't the greatest day out. So I am looking forward to having another crack at him, another go at the challenge of playing against him."

A repeat of his touch of class in Clermont class would do nicely.

"It was bitter-sweet because of the disappointment of the result," he says of his signature score.

"A gap managed to open up and when I was running through it was Morgan Parra that was chasing me.

"He's a very decorated French international but he wouldn't be the quickest so thankfully I managed to kick on and score the try. It went by in a blink.

"I haven't really reflected on it too much because there was disappointment with the result; that was the overriding feeling."

Disappointments have been rare so far in his gilded career; a new twist may be unfurled this summer.

Irish Independent

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