Schmidt’s centre of excellence

A needs-must situation, Joe Schmidt had said.

Schmidt’s centre of excellence

It was a phrase that caught the eye of many a headline writer last week, but it ran counter to the tide of praise the Ireland manager had already heaped on Garry Ringrose when he discussed the youngster’s recall to the Ireland team.

Extraordinary.” “Outstanding”. “Trust.” “Faith.

This was the sort of language that epitomised the Ireland coach’s feelings when it came to a midfielder who had played less than an hour of rugby since the opening week of the year.

Schmidt knew he was light on match fitness with just six games played all season. And he will have known better than anyone how Ringrose had been caught out defensively more than once in those outings with Leinster.

With the province playing such an aggressive brand of in-your-face defence, the onus on the man wearing 13 to pounce from the line and smother attacks is considerable and the Blackrock man’s timing wasn’t always perfect.

But with Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell all injured, the Kiwi coach felt he had no option but to fast-track the 23-year-old Leinster man’s own return from rehab after his ankle surgery in January.

“I tried not to get too concerned about it,” said Ringrose of his rustiness. “I got a good few training minutes under my belt in the last few weeks and was in even before that as well. I was able to take confidence from that as well and Joe works us pretty hard in training.

So, I didn’t have to get too worried about fitness. I was sucking diesel a couple of times out there but playing alongside Bundee (Aki), he makes my job that bit easier, as well as (Keith Earls) Earlsy and Jacob (Stockdale) on the wings.

Earls was asked about Ringrose’s less than perfect preparation — 54 minutes against the Southern Kings 15 days earlier — in the run-up to the Scottish game and he framed the difficulty of the task before him in his own context.

Back in late 2010, the Limerick man had returned from a six-month injury absence for a Heineken Cup game against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium and he found his lungs starved of oxygen after just three minutes.

He lasted 69 minutes that day. Ringrose played the full 80 of a Test game at the weekend and his levels hardly dipped throughout the afternoon with a performance that was exceptional.

It wasn’t perfect. Scotland found inroads through his neighbourhood once or twice but the moment that caught the eye came on 73 minutes when he flew out of the line to smother Huw Jones as Scotland launched off a maul in the Irish 22.

Ringrose’s acceleration was astonishing: he was on the Scot before the TV cameras could capture the moment adequately, so the images did the intervention scant justice.

Initially, I was a little bit nervous filling in for Chris and Robbie, with how good they’d been. They’d had world-class performances between them. But then it was just about fitting in and getting my role in the (defensive) system right.

“Talking to Bundee beforehand, we knew they had some pretty special individuals, so it was about backing each other up and how we reacted. If I was beaten, how he

covered me and vice versa.”

Aki’s role in all this shouldn’t be overlooked. The Connacht centre carried out a multitude of small but vital jobs on Saturday, but he was overshadowed by the sight of Ringrose’s dancing feet and their ability to buy Ireland an extra few yards each time.

If there is a concern ahead of Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day then it is in the experiences of so many players in various codes down the years who have found the first game back to be so much easier than the few that follow.

Adrenalin, muscle memory and an element of fear will have all helped Ringrose against Scotland. Such reserves are limited, but then this is a player who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of class and the aptitude to cope.

And, as his return suggests, a damn good sense of timing, too.

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