November 18, 2022 | News | No Comments
IF YOU WERE to have a debate about the best outside centres in world rugby at present, Garry Ringrose’s name would be very much in the mix.
Still just 24, the Dublin man has become a key cog for Leinster and Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, a player of intelligence and decision-making class, essential to both teams’ defences and capable of delivering crucial cutting edge in attack.
He makes his return from a hamstring injury for Ireland against France in the Six Nations today and his team-mates are happy, perhaps even a little relieved, to see him back in the 13 shirt.
Ringrose returns for Ireland against France today. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
“He adds an extra dimension,” says Ireland captain Rory Best. “Garry has that X-factor, there’s no doubt about it. He just has the ability in a really, really tight game like we’re going to get against France to potentially unlock something from nothing.
“I’ve played with a few players in an Irish jersey who had that ability and whenever it comes to tough moments that’s really important.
“To see how hard he’s worked to get back quickly, it’s a real bonus for us. Garry is just a little bit different. He doesn’t have the sheer size but his footwork is just electric.”
Oddly enough for a player who is so perfectly suited to the 13 jersey now, Ringrose was mainly a scrum-half up until he was in fifth year in Blackrock College and only became an outside centre in sixth year, via a stint at fullback.
Ringrose wasn’t a star in his early school days, but he eventually shone in Blackrock’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup success in 2013, when he was a goal-kicking influence who scored a long-range solo try in the final against St Michael’s College.
Since then, he has excelled consistently but it wasn’t always the case that Ringrose looked destined for the top of the game. Far from it.
Justin Vanstone, the current Blackrock senior team coach, was in charge of the school’s ‘House’ team – a development side for the senior team – when Ringrose was in fourth year but initially sent him to play with the Colts, a step below.
Ringrose hadn’t been able to get onto the Junior Cup team as a scrum-half in third year, playing for the seconds. However, when he was dispatched to the Colts, something began to stir.
“He was too good and got sent back to me,” recalls Vanstone. “I actually taught Garry in third-year Maths as well. As well as being a coach’s dream, he was a teacher’s dream.
Ringrose playing Senior Cup rugby for Blackrock in 2013. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“Very self-driven, very self-aware, he knew what he was good at and what he wasn’t so strong at.
“When I sent him to the Colts, he listened, he was never a guy who questioned why others were ahead of him. He focused on making himself better and made sure that it was clear I’d made a mistake. That’s Garry in a nutshell.”
There was something about Ringrose’s subtly clever play that suggested to Vanstone that he would thrive with more space, despite his relatively small stature at that stage. A move to fullback bore fruit.
“Garry has a great sense of space, great spatial awareness,” says Vanstone. “He’s a good footballer, makes really good decisions and is very calm.
“We realised we needed to get Garry on the ball more and more. He wasn’t the biggest guy at that stage but I liked how he made up for it in other ways. Technically, he was very sound.”
And yet, Ringrose still wasn’t marked out as a future professional when he reached sixth year, but an injury at 13 saw him making the move into midfield and suddenly his potential kicked into full gear.
His catch-pass, kicking, defensive and decision-making skills were perfect at outside centre and he was a vital figure as the Peter Smyth-coached Blackrock side won the Cup.
Only months later and after leaving school to join Leinster’s sub-academy, Ringrose was selected for the Leinster U20s despite being a year young for that level.
He played in a game against Leicester Tigers’ academy at Ashbourne, where then Ireland U20s coach Mike Ruddock was watching.
“He got the ball out in the five-metre channel close to the touchline,” recalls Ruddock.
Ringrose in his first season with the Ireland U20s. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO
“There were three young Tigers looking to hunt him down but with the most incredible bit of footwork I’ve seen – other than Shane Williams – Garry managed to dance through these three would-be tacklers and come out the other side without any of them touching him.
“Not only that but he ran on and scored. It was standout stuff and you’re looking for that when you’re putting a national squad together.”
With that major green tick alongside his name, Ringrose was brought into the Ireland set-up a year early, starting the first two Six Nations games before Ruddock dropped him for the remainder of the 2014 championship.
Ruddock felt the 18-year-old wasn’t quite suited to the heavier, more physical games in the Six Nations – when the weather can be poor – but kept Ringrose in his plans for that summer’s Junior World Championship.
“I left him out and I remember saying that he needed to keep working hard on becoming a little bit more physical with his defensive duties. He did that, went away and worked hard with a real focus on it.”
Ringrose proved to be a sensation in New Zealand in 2014, excelling as Ireland finished fourth. He was nominated for World Rugby Junior Player of the Year after a string of performances that included a two-try showing against Wales in Pukekohe.
“He was fantastic and put in a great physical shift in defence,” says Ruddock. “Straight away, we were all talking about him as a potential senior player.”
Advancing into the Leinster academy proper for the 2014/15 season, Ringrose had another year with the Ireland U20s under Nigel Carolan, helping them to seventh place in Italy in the 2015 World Championship.
His senior Leinster debut came at the start of the 2015/16 season – a campaign in which he made 20 starts – and he was an Ireland international by November 2016, making his debut against Canada at the age of 21.
Throughout the rise, Ringrose has looked unflappable and remained unfailingly level-headed. One couldn’t meet a more polite interviewee.
Ringrose on his senior Ireland debut in 2016. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
“He’s got a lovely set of parents,” says Vanstone of Ringrose, who still helps out in Blackrock whenever asked. “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and his younger brother Jack [who plays for UCD in the AIL] is the same.
“What was really impressive with Garry and Jack was the way they supported each other. Garry talks about his family a lot in interviews and he very much lives that life too – he’s so supportive of Jack.
Ruddock has always been similarly impressed with Ringrose’s character, enjoying a chat with the Leinster midfielder whenever they bump into each other now.
“He was the same with the U20s – humble, respectful, unassuming,” says Ruddock. “Let’s be honest, he’s a good-looking guy, a bit of a film star profile, but he doesn’t walk around with any sort of cockiness about him and you’ve got to love that about the guy.
“Every time I see him he doesn’t seem to have changed at all. He’s at ease in anyone’s company and I think he’s a great ambassador for Irish rugby. I’ve met his mum and dad and he’s from a lovely family, so it’s very easy to see why he’s like that.”
Ringrose – who many people feel was hard done by not to tour with the Lions in 2017 – is already a vital figure for Ireland and he will be even more important in the post-Schmidt era after this year’s World Cup when there will be an inevitable sense of transition.
“He is the kind of guy you can build a side around,” says Vanstone. “He’s an excellent role model.
Ringrose is a key figure for Ireland at the age of 24. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“He could have another eight years or more at the highest level, which is kind of scary!”
Best, who will vacate his position as Ireland captain after the World Cup, also has respect for Ringrose’s unfussy style of leadership.
“The way Garry leads is a wee bit similar to the way Earlsy [Keith Earls] leads, it’s not so much talking in big groups but it’s managing people around him,” says the Ulsterman.
“When you’re training and playing, he manages the forwards, drags us around the place. He’s so fit, he sets so early and puts pressure on you to set too. It’s that little bit of talk too.
“He leads, firstly, by his actions on and off the pitch.”
– This article was updated at 11.52am to correct ‘team’s’ to ‘teams” in the second paragraph.
Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.
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