Speed of thought and foot have extricated Garry Ringrose from many a tight spot on the field but the young centre found it a tad more complicated yesterday when trying to sidestep enquiries about a hypothetical role with the British and Irish Lions next month.
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The 22-year old was among those most unlucky to miss out on Warren Gatland’s squad when it was announced but the accepted line of thought is that the former Blackrock schoolboy’s mobile number is high up on the list of replacement should any be needed in midfield.
Gatland name-checked him yet again in Lions camp over the weekend when asked a generic question about the standby list and, more specifically, whether one actually existed. The answer was illuminating and yet inky black all at once.
“We don’t want to back ourselves into a corner with a player who is right at the moment but maybe isn’t later on,” said the Lions head coach.
“The best example of a player who was unlucky not to be picked in the original squad is Garry Ringrose but if in the last week the weather forecast says it will be pelting it down, it could be that someone else comes in instead of him.”
It is believed that, not only is there such a thing as a standby list, but that those on it must sign a contract accepting that they will stay fit and refrain from heading away on holidays.
Ringrose, no more than anyone else, just can’t come out and say as much.
“As far as I know, Warren is quite right in saying he can’t put out a standby list because so many things can change between now and then,” the player tried to explain ahead of Leinster’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final with Scarlets at the RDS on Friday.
“There are a million different things. So to start naming a squad outside a squad, he could be shooting himself in the foot.
“As far as I’m aware there isn’t but I don’t want to be saying anything I shouldn’t say. As far as I am aware, there isn’t a standby list.”
See the position he is in?
You feel for the lad having to tread so gingerly through all that uncertainty in public — and all for a team he hasn’t even made — but interest in his candidacy only heightened when he ripped through Clermont Auvergne for a solo try in the Champions Cup semi-final just days after the squad was named.
He’s far too polite and savvy to bite on the suggestion that it was the ultimate ‘two-fingered salute’ but it showed just how much progress has been made by a player who was sitting his Leaving Cert when the Lions last toured and one only six months removed from his Ireland debut.
Andy Farrell, Ireland’s defence coach, apparently told Gatland that Ringrose will be “incredibly special” in another six months and that suspicion of youth and inexperience saw him miss out for now from a squad that will fly to New Zealand with six specialist centres and Owen Farrell who can play ten and 12.
The Saracens out-half is one of four from that pick for whom the domestic season is only reaching a peak. Sarries face Exeter in the first Aviva Premiership semi-final this Saturday while Elliot Daly’s Wasps go up against Leicester in the second game later that afternoon.
Robbie Henshaw, injury permitting, and Jonathan Davies will face off in the Leinster-Scarlets Pro12 semi in Dublin while Jared Payne, Ben Te’o and Jonathan Joseph can relax in the knowledge that only a training mishap or another unforeseen mishap can stop them boarding that plane.
Leinster go into the Scarlets match with Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Jordi Murphy and Dave Kearney all unavailable due to lengthy injury issues while the availability of Henshaw (rib), Sean O’Brien (hamstring) and Sean Cronin (neck) remains open for question.
Cronin appears to be the least likely of those to feature for now.
“What defines a team’s season is the silverware you finish with and it was pretty tough watching Saracens lift the European Cup at weekend because it is something that we would have been striving for,” said Ringrose.
“Now we have a crack at winning silverware in the Pro12.
“That starts on Friday and that’s all I’m thinking about.” The rest of us are free to look ahead and ponder what still might be.
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