Incredible. That’s how Garry Ringrose describes the list of centres who have taught him some vital lessons this season as the rookie prepares for the first knock-out game of his career.
Touted as the man to fill the illustrious boots of Brian O’Driscoll, the Leinster 21-year-old has entered a different game to the one which the former Ireland captain took by storm in 1999.
Defence coaches didn’t exist, video reviews were thought of as an unnecessary expense and defenders didn’t unleash powerful hits with bar-jarring consistency every time someone ran down their channel.
Ringrose’s story shares some similarities with O’Driscoll’s.
Whether it will continue along the same path depends on his ability to cope, learn and apply with the challenges that come his way.
Having played in all of Leinster’s interprovincial derbies this season Ringrose has come across some impressive opponents.
Francis Saili, Bundee Aki and Luke Marshall have all locked horns with him from across the line and more often than not it’s gone well, but the player himself is happy to have avoided any disasters so far.
“They are three incredible centres, two internationals and what looks like one soon-to-be international (Aki). Playing against them was a pretty cool experience for me, trying to learn as much from the challenges they throw at you because they all have a CV of attributes that have got them to where they are now,” Ringrose said.
“Francis, being an All Black, was tough to play against, someone I enjoyed playing against. He seems to be coming from all angles. They each pose different threats and challenge me in a different way.
“I just tried to keep up with them. Then, you have Bundee, who is incredible this year. Playing against him was pretty tough. Luke is someone who has got injuries over the years that have hindered him. Now, he’s probably playing some of the rugby of his life and is one of the best centres in Ireland at the moment.
“He has his full-back Jared Payne, who is one of the guys stopping him from playing for Ireland.”
It was far from easy over a fortnight ago when Leinster travelled to Belfast and lost 30-6 to an Ulster team who were fighting for their play-off lives. By Ringrose’s own admission Ulster’s midfield suffocated the young Irishman and his centre partner Ben Te’o, but the game will stick out for more obvious reasons. The Dubliner can vividly remember the sight of Andrew Trimble ploughing into him a minute before the half-time whistle blew.
There was no mystery to it for Ringrose. He wasn’t keeping an eye on the defence ahead of him, he was standing too flat and then… “I got a wallop off him,” Ringrose said.
“He’s one of the best wingers in the world at that defensively. Talking about experiences and learning from them, that would be a particular instance where I have to analyse why that happened.”
The incident highlights how important quick thinking will serve Ringrose in the future, particularly if he is to be a success at international level, which will demand that he dominates the physical exchanges.
Standing at 6ft 1in, Ringrose is still a fraction under 14 stone and although there is a trade-off to be reached between weight and power compared to speed and agility, the player has been able to survive the rough and tumble of five starts in six derby games this season. “There’s an edge to the games that’s hard to describe,” Ringrose said. “When it’s team-mates who are friends with regards to Ireland and then [face each other] for their provinces, the pride collide and there is that extra edge and physicality to it. But it brings the best out of everyone as well so they’re enjoyable games to play in.”
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