Garry Ringrose won’t need the benefit of any DVD to remember just how punishing Saturday’s bruiser was.
The story will be etched all over his cherubic schoolboy face — an easel of resplendent reds — when he catches himself in the mirror.
His left eye is ringed on the outside by a long, ugly welt. His right cheek is similarly discoloured but he affects a contented smile as he goes over the bones of an evening that saw him go toe to toe and, clearly, cheek to cheek, with the world’s best.
“You come across a few big guys in the Champions Cup and Pro12, so I suppose it was tough in the cauldron against the number one team in the world,” he explained. “It was a pretty cool occasion to be a part of and it was incredibly physical.”
Rarely has one game offered up so many disparate talking points but strip away the controversies to do with the referee’s or TMO’s decisions and the performances of the younger brigade in green stands near the summit of talking points.
This was a flag for the future, planted in the highest, most fertile ground.
Ringrose’s input was typical of the promise of more. An outside centre by trade, he was ushered into the fray with little more than ten minutes on the clock for the injured Robbie Henshaw who had been stationed inside that at 12.
Midfield is not static. Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy used to swap over and back all the time, depending on scenarios, and whether Ireland were attacking or defending. Ringrose and Jared Payne did something similar.
Yet so much of the young Leinster back’s work was done at inside-centre on this occassion and the uncomplicated manner with which he adapted to a relatively unfamiliar role spoke volumes of his talent, intelligence and the clarity of purpose that is Joe Schmidt’s system.
Ringrose tried to play all that down. He had a point in stating that it was his role as 23rd man to be ready to slot in at various points throughout the back line but this was still his first time doing any sort of job at 12 since he played there with the Leinster U20 side.
This was a different ball game.
“It was just about fitting in,” he claimed. “The coaches say ‘fit in first’. You’re usually coming on in a setpiece, more often than not, so it’s about knowing your role and executing on that. That’s the best way to get into the game, so I was happy with that.”
South Africa last summer was the perfect example of the ease with which individuals are now slotting into the collective and the performances of Ringrose and Josh van der Flier — who was sensational again — was proof again of the extra oomph coming off the bench.
Add in Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson on Saturday, and the input of Ultan Dillane and Joey Carbery in Chicago, and Schmidt’s determination to use the promise of youth to build depth into the squad ahead of Japan in 2019 is well on underway.
It’s a far cry from the days when callow players were dipped gingerly into the Test arena against tier two nations only.
That these players are cutting their teeth against the best in the world is only adding to the levels of self-belief.
“I suppose it shows we could mix it with the best of them. We won for the first time and we put some good passages of play together,” said the ridiculously impressive 24-year old Tadhg Furlong. “I thought we had them under pressure at times, absolutely.
“There is a young core coming through there. I thought Garry Ringrose, Josh van der Flier and Paddy Jackson played very well when they came on, Hendy came on and he’s still only 24 as well. So the younger lads are gaining experience and belief.”
And to think more history awaits.
Beat Australia next week and Ireland will have claimed the scalp of all three southern hemisphere behemoths in the one year for the first time, and it will confirm further the fact that the national team is now the equal of the Sanzar nations that for so long lorded it over them.
Ireland won 32% of their games against the big three and Argentina under Eddie O’Sullivan. That rose to 36.5% under Declan Kidney and stands at 50% under Schmidt. Most heartening is the belief that another victory is well within their compass regardless of any injuries or absences.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know who is in, who is out, how bad the injuries are,” said Furlong ahead of the Wallabies.
“So we’ll just have to dust ourselves down. The medics will make a call and Joe will pick the team and the squad.
“Look, everyone has faith in Joe. I thought we showed in South Africa with a depleted team as well that we could mix it with the best of them so it’s just exciting.
“We just have to look after the bodies and we’ll be ripping to go next week.”
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