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08th Feb 2023

Garry Ringrose in the form of his life and Ireland’s captain-in-waiting

Patrick McCarry

“It’s an easy choice, but easy for a reason.”

Have a chat with any player from the Leinster and Ireland set-ups and they will invariably rave about Garry Ringrose.

Touted as the next Brian O’Driscoll [not the first lad to have that compliment and burden bestowed], Joe Schmidt got a glimpse of Ringrose in 2014 when he was with the Ireland U20s. The 19-year-old made such an impression that Schmidt got him in for some extra sessions.

“I think you could tell immediately that he had something different from the rest of his peers,” O’Driscoll himself recalled, a few years on.

Nine years on and Ringrose has realised all that potential that Schmidt. O’Driscoll and others saw in him. The only thing his career CV is missing is a British & Irish Lions tour (or two). Warren Gatland has already admitted he made a mistake in not bringing Johnny Sexton to South Africa in 2021. He should confess to a double error in ignoring Ringrose in 2017 and 2021.

For all the talk of Sexton being fired up to face the returning Gatland, against Wales, last weekend, Ringrose, James Ryan and Josh van der Flier all had Lions points to prove. The Leinster centre made two big tackles [more on that below] against Wales that showed how keyed in he was. One was a crucial try-saver, the other a crunching hit.

For those reasons, and a myriad more, Ringrose was named as one of three crucial players to watch in world rugby in 2023 [LISTEN to that chat from 36:00 here]:

Garry RingroseGarry Ringrose, left, and Bundee Aki of Ireland. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Garry Ringrose, future Ireland captain?

Look at the final match statistics of Garry Ringrose in that 34-10 win over Wales and they will not blow you away.

The 28-year-old had his hands on the ball 13 times over the 80 minutes, passing four times and making nine carries for gains of 17 metres with three defenders beaten. In defence, he made 10 tackles yet missed four and hit a fair few rucks.

Ringrose is often used, as O’Driscoll was in the latter part of his career, as the shooter from the defensive line to squeeze the opposition for space. He is backed, as defensive leader in the backline, to spring up to make hits or get in passing lines. It can lead to the odd missed tackle or impact hits like the one he made on Dan Biggar:

In the first half, the defensive awareness and sheer will of Garry Ringrose was apparent when Wales were trying to find a foothold in the game.

Ireland were 24-3 ahead but Wales were pressing, inside their 22, for a score to get themselves back in the game. Ringrose started over on the right flank, defending as Wales had a scrum put-in.

When play spread to the far wing, he pegged over, scanned one ruck and scrambled to pull down Dan Biggar, even as he was losing his footing. Had Ringrose not scragged Biggar, it would have been a two-on-one. To make it even better for Ireland, he was able to roll quickly and allow James Lowe to get in for the turnover poach.

‘He’s that bloody good’

Those were just two moments from Ringrose’s 80-minute outing but show what he brings to the team, in a defensive capacity. In attack, he has provided 12 tries and 10 try assists, for Leinster and Ireland, since the start of last season.

There is also his captaincy for Leinster and, in time, Ireland. He has captained in previous seasons but has led Leinster out frequently this season and looks completely at ease in the role. James Ryan was long-touted as an Ireland captain for after the Sexton-O’Mahony era but using him as pack leader with Ringrose as captain looks the better bet (similar to how Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll worked it).

On House of Rugby, Jason Hennessy said selecting Ringrose as one of the most important players for Ireland in 2023 was a simple call. “He’s just so damn good at the moment,” he declared.

“I’ve just never seen someone in the kind of form he’s in. He has actually elevated himself to a level where – and I’ll be honest with you – I just didn’t think he was capable of. I thought we had seen the best of Garry Ringrose, and it was very good, but he’s hit another level again.

“He was always a really, really good centre but, in the last nine months [going back to New Zealand] he has shot up to truly world-class levels. You can now put Garry Ringrose next to the Lukhanyo Ams and Damien De Allendes. He’s that bloody good.”

Hennessy is confident that Ringrose is the next captain-in-waiting for Ireland, after Johnny Sexton hangs up his boots, and even points out how the Dubliner can cover wing and often ‘look like the best winger on the pitch’.

He also referred to a moment in Le Havre, as Leinster were coasting against Racing 92 in the Champions Cup, when Ringrose sprinted half the length of the pitch and charged down a clearing kick. “To be that determined to charge down a kick in the second half,” he said, “when you’re already 30 points up, I was like, ‘This guy is just playing out of his skin’… when Johnny goes, there is your perfect replacement as captain.”

As for the other two key Ireland players for 2023, Lindsay Peat went for Peter O’Mahony while Greg O’Shea, who agreed on the captaincy shout, opted for Josh van der Flier.


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