Felix Jones believes Joe Schmidt is right to delay the promotion of youngsters such as Garry Ringrose into the senior Test ranks.
The absence of Ringrose from the Ireland Six Nations squad was met with some disappointment by segments of the rugby community, after the Leinster centre’s star turns with Leo Cullen’s side this season and it re-enforced a perception that Irish rugby is slow in general to give youth its head.
There have been certain exceptions to that rule.
Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy were both chucked into the elite game as youngsters, Luke Fitzgerald had just turned 20 when he first played for his country and Robbie Henshaw was four days short of that mark when picked against the USA three summers ago.
Yet, it is hardly surprising that a player who was forced to retire early from the game due to a serious neck injury suggests that youngsters concentrate on stepping stones such as the U20s grade in which Ringrose appeared for Ireland last year.
“There’s always guys coming through and I think it’s probably better for guys’ development, in a lot of ways, for the majority of people to go through a process of getting there,” said Jones who was announcing Electric Ireland’s sponsorship of the U20 Six Nations home games in Donnybrook.
“Never say never, of course not. But, when you consider it, (the U20s) is a launching pad. You look at how Garry (Ringrose) did during that campaign last year and now what he’s doing in the Pro12 and in Europe. It was an ideal platform for him.”
It was the U20s grade that allowed Jones — and many others — break into the senior game as the 28-year-old was a member of perhaps the best Irish side to play at the grade in modern times and one that claimed a Grand Slam title in 2007.
Keith Earls, Sean O’Brien, Ian Keatley, Cian Healy and Darren Cave were just some of those who built a successful professional career with the help of that campaign though Jones is currently coming to terms with life outside the game after his enforced retirement in October.
Currently pursuing a Masters in sports psychology at the University of Limerick, he has kept his hand in with Munster in an unofficial role. Most of his time seems to be spent in the video room after what he admitted was a “pretty shocking” and sudden end to his career.
“It’s obviously a massive change with how you go about your day even,” he explained. “Before, things are so prescribed. Wear this, be here then. Huge shock there. Probably the biggest difference I found was even things like eating.
“I’d always be driving around the place thinking ‘I better eat something quickly to look after myself.’ Where now I’m kind of, I still want to eat good food, but the gaps between having your meals. I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s one of the strangest things.”
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