After an injury-disrupted season, the Ireland centre is returning to his best form
For a brief moment, Garry Ringrose worried that his rotten luck had returned to haunt him once again.
It wasn’t so much that there was a sudden jolt of pain, but with the adrenaline pumping in the early stages of last weekend’s win over Italy, he couldn’t be sure of the extent of what had just happened.
After all, in the previous Six Nations clash against Italy in Dublin, a similarly innocuous incident involving a stray boot broke Ringrose’s jaw, which was bad enough, only after he had a metal plate and screws inserted to rectify the damage, he cruelly suffered the same injury on his return.
This time, blood poured from a gaping wound on his head, and Ringrose’s immediate concerns were not of his own well-being, but rather that of his granny, who for the first time was at the Aviva Stadium to see her grandson play.
Having missed so much rugby last season, Ringrose was due a bit of good fortune – that is of course if you count having to have several stitches in your forehead, before returning to the heat of battle.
Thankfully, he was able to overcome the early setback, as his granny watched on with pride.
“She loved it, she thought it was great, she had a front-row seat,” Ringrose smiles.
If the time spent on the sidelines last season taught Ringrose anything, it is to enjoy the good times even more.
In a sport that is so wearily ‘next game focused’, players can often lose sight of why they play rugby in the first place, and for Ringrose, having his granny there last weekend was a timely reminder.
“When you go through that trickier time of being injured and frustrated, it is definitely a reminder and makes me really appreciate being able to play at the moment,” he says.
“You feel like you can’t catch a break. I have empathy for one or two guys in Leinster. I know Will Connors got dealt some poor news with his (knee) injury. We would have rehabbed a bit together, and it just feels like you can’t catch a break.
“You have your moments when it’s tough. Supporting the lads and going to all the games, you’d love nothing more than to be out there with them.
“It’s an inconvenient truth playing rugby, it’s not exactly a good selling point. It’s the nature of it, everyone goes through it at some point, some worse than others.
“I feel lucky that I am out the other end now and definitely enjoying it as much as I can, knowing that it can be taken away in an instant.
“When something gets taken away from you, you try soak it up a bit more the next time it’s presented to you.”
Ringrose was part of an Ireland attack that struggled to take more advantage of playing against Italy’s 13 men, but there was a lesson in that, as Andy Farrell’s men look towards England next Saturday. For such an improved attack, in which Ringrose has been integral at times, it was just as frustrating to play in as it was to watch.
“It feels weird to say it’s difficult to play against 13 men because it’s obviously a huge advantage, so the word ‘difficult’ can often be misinterpreted,” Ringrose maintains.
“For what it’s worth this is my view; there is a lot of space. The obvious thing is you want to attack the space as quickly as possible.
“But when everyone is seeing that, sometimes there’s loads of space in different areas at the same time and it can challenge a team to maybe go off script a bit. It’s no one individual’s fault, but you end up chasing the holes and chasing the space, which takes you away from playing cohesively and in sync together, which is ultimately the best way to break down any team, no matter how many people they have.
“The challenge when you are presented with such a huge advantage is to stay in sync and stick to what works as a team. When you’re playing against 13, there is probably an expectation to score every time, which in reality, that is very difficult to do.
“When that’s not the case, it can probably look worse than it actually is.
“But being able to get a 51 points difference and come away from the game with still loads of room for improvement is a good spot to be in.”
Ringrose’s importance to Ireland continues to grow and while Ulster’s in-form centre James Hume is closing the gap, he has a bit to go yet.
All the while the debate will rage on about whether Bundee Aki or Robbie Henshaw is better suited for the trip to Twickenham, when fit, Ringrose is a constant presence in midfield.
The 27-year-old is thriving in Mike Catt’s attacking system, which is closely aligned to what his former England boss Stuart Lancaster has implemented at Leinster.
Offering insight into what his role as the ‘13’ entails, Ringrose explains: “I’m really enjoying the attacking mindset with Leinster and Ireland.
“Off set-piece, it would be to run good lines and get over the gain-line to create space somewhere else. Or sit down defenders to create space in that play off first phase.
“That would definitely be a big focus and if you are not doing one, then off the second phase, you try be one of the link players to create space or else be the one to strike and take on the line.
“Then off phase attack, it’s probably a bit more intricate. Sometimes it can be to create two-sided attacks, so as the play is flowing one way, to spot if the defence overfolds and then to call it back off nine to reverse down the short-side. It’s about spotting opportunities to change direction. That’s one thing I can definitely improve on.
“Another area is to work as much as possible to create an extra man. So, if a play is flowing to one side, work to the openside quicker than the defence is folding around the ruck. That’s the grunt work because it challenges the legs and lungs.
“Lastly, it’s about being a link player because if the space is on the edge, you want to sit down defenders with the ball in hand. It can vary but it’s about trying to get the perfect measure of all of those things.”
When Catt took charge of Ireland’s attack, he focused on ‘scanning’. In other words, he pushed his players to observe the space around them.
“I’d say he is blue in the face from telling me to keep scanning,” Ringrose laughs. “But he’s right and he offers really good insight from that perspective. It’s a huge part of it. You have to scan, see the space first and foremost but then to back it up, you have to get the communication in and trust the call and then ultimately execute.”
Without Manu Tuilagi, England’s midfield has been imbalanced, which Ireland may look to expose through Ringrose.
However, considering England put 57 points on Ireland during Ringrose’s last visit to Twickenham, he is wary of the challenge that lies ahead.
“I had never been there before I played there in 2018 (Grand Slam-winning game),” Ringrose adds.
“The first challenge is definitely the 15 English lads you’re looking at facing, how strong they are. Then the layer on top of that is the atmosphere, which is always unbelievable.
“I’m hoping myself and the whole group learn from the (recent) Stade de France experience and take the lessons into playing at Twickenham.
“We will definitely have our work cut out for us. The second time I was in Twickenham (in 2019), we saw that if you’re not at your best, they can punish you with a scoreline like that.
“It’s still pretty raw in the memory as it was the last time I was there, but I would love to be involved in an Ireland team that hopefully changes that.”
Garry Ringrose is the third guest of the Audi Ireland Driving Progress podcast series, which goes live on Monday on all platforms