If things had turned out differently, Garry Ringrose and Ben Te’o could have been both in green today, aiming to take down England and celebrate a grand slam together.
However, the twists and turns of professional rugby means the former Leinster duo will wear 12 and 13 as usual – but Ringrose in green and Te’o in white.
The latter spent two seasons with Leinster from 2014 to 2016 before moving to the English Premiership which took him into the RFU’s system and allowed Eddie Jones to cap the Australian born former rugby league star.
He had previously considered playing for Ireland once he qualified under the three-year residency laws, but changed his mind after a chat with Jones.
“I just thought a year is a long time,” he said, in 2016. “You don’t know what’s around the corner in terms of what the Irish coaches are thinking. They might go the other way. I just think when you see an opportunity and it feels right just take it and go with it.” Now in his second season as an England player – with two Lions caps under his belt to boot – Te’o will face down Ringrose and Bundee Aki, another player who has qualified through residency – in what his only his fourth Six Nations start.
“I haven’t actually played against Ben, I’m more used to playing alongside him so that will be an interesting challenge,” Ringrose explained ahead of the trip to Twickenham.
In the 2015-16 season, he and Ringrose were Leinster’s first choice midfield for almost the entire season, but today they’ll be enemies.
An epic encounter awaits in Twickenham tomorrow!
A win for last year's Champions or a Grand Slam for Ireland?March 16, 2018
“It was my first year coming in from the academy and playing alongside him so there was a couple of times when he’d get the ball and do a lot of the work and then I’d try and trail him up and if I could get an offload or something,” Ringrose recalled of their season together.
“He’s an incredibly strong carrier which is no secret but he also has that ability to take the line on and then get an offload and create space for others. So it will certainly be tough for myself and Bundee coming up against him, because he’s grown, probably a lot, since I played alongside him.
“He’s got even better, so it will be a tough old day I’d say.”
Aided by advice from his friend, Australian full back Israel Folau, Te’o had just made the switch from league to union when he landed in Dublin, and his work ethic was an inspiration for rookie Ringrose.
“I think how well he adapted, because it was pretty tough, I can imagine, going from League where his role would have been quite different to the role he would have had to play in the centre,” he said.
“So the fact that he was constantly working on his skills and trying to evolve his game, which I was trying to bounce off and pick his brain for any ideas I could get.
“He was pretty good when he was at Leinster but he has managed to improve again and some of the stuff he does in England is incredibly effective so he’s not there by accident, it’s down to the work he puts in.
“So I would have learned a couple of things off him.” Te’o and Jonathan Joseph form the third different midfield partnership for England in three tests – something that makes Ireland’s homework more difficult ahead of today’s showdown.
“From some of the analysis you don’t have to look back far to see what Jonathan Joseph is capable of,” Ringrose said. “Even going away from home just presents a different challenge and then playing against someone of his quality, it’ll be a tough day. In terms of myself and Bundee, it’s just trying to back each other up and cover each other when it does go wrong but hopefully if we work as hard as we can and stick to the system and it shouldn’t.”
Joseph and Te’o are like Ringrose and Aki in the sense the two outside centres have more flair than their inside colleagues. But which does Ringrose prefer to deal with in defence?
“I think between Jonathan and Ben, the pair of them, both are pretty skilful but both have that physical aspect to their game,” he said. “Joseph is probably a little bit quicker off the mark but it’ll be about trying to get that balance right defensively and certainly in attack, it might be tricky to run around Jonathan Joseph and run through someone like Ben Te’o. It will be about trying to get the balance right between those two.” There’s also a balance required between excitement and nerves, and Ringrose, who has won his first Six Nations title – believes the team will find the right mix to help them to a Slam.
“Listening to Johnny earlier in the week you kind of forget these opportunities don’t come along very often,” he said. “Towards the start of the week you have nerves and excitement but at the end of the day it comes back down to the work you do on Monday and not get too distracted by what’s at stake or what potentially could be at stake.
“That was kind of the attitude, copy the example set by the leaders in the group in terms of focusing on training and trying to win each day. With what we’re coming up against, it’d be foolish to look too far ahead.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved