Garry Ringrose: heir to O’Driscoll’s throne is world class in his own right
Leinster centre shows leadership and ‘is now starting to express himself’
Garry Ringrose in action against Toulouse during the Heineken Champions Cup Semi Final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: INPHO/Billy Stickland
For the fifth time in the last 11 years, Leinster’s chances of winning a Heineken Champions Cup final are noticeably enhanced by having a brilliant number 13 in their ranks. Innately modest and reticent, and thus largely content to allow his rugby do his talking, Garry Ringrose’s status as a world-class outside centre has crept up on us all almost surreptitiously, but world-class he is now.
No sooner had he broken into the Leinster team at 20, and the Irish team at 21, than Ringrose quickly became one of the first names on both Leo Cullen’s and Joe Schmidt’s team sheets. That says it all really.
Hence, while Ringrose has had his fair share of injuries, when he’s not injured, he plays, and generally plays 80 minutes. He played every minute of Leinster’s five knock-out matches in completing last season’s double, and has played every minute of their run to today’s final bar the last ten of the return match at home to Bath, when Leinster were 42-15 ahead.
“He’s a fantastic talent,” says Stuart Lancaster. “He’s another one who came through the Leinster schools system and he was earmarked probably late in his school career, but as an 18, 19, 20-year-old, he really blossomed. He was a star for Ireland Under-20s and he is such a diligent, good lad.”
“He’s really growing as a leader; that is the most impressive thing about him. He used to be quite quiet and wouldn’t talk too much in meetings, but now he is really taking responsibility and talking about defence and attacking shape – and taking a lot of the burden off Johnny.”
Ringrose can now be frequently seen talking in huddles, be they Leinster or Irish, something Iain Henderson has also highlighted.
“Maybe he came in still very young and quiet, but he has grown into this position. For me he leads in what he does. If I see Garry’s name on the team sheet I know automatically he is going to put in a performance. For me that’s a quality, a style of leadership that will instil confidence in all the players around him, that he is going to do the job to the best of his ability.”
Like much else, being the heir to the O’Driscoll throne has never unduly appeared to faze him in the slightest.
“No, no, no, he wouldn’t have been hampered by that,” says Lancaster. “That has fallen away a bit because people have recognised that he is Garry Ringrose – a good player in his own right. But he has got similar traits, with his ability to make an outside break, his footwork and his balance. He is so talented. He could play 10, 12 or 13 I think, but 13 is his best position.”
Strong and quick
He is also deceptively strong and quick. Indeed he’s strong enough to have won his third cap in November 2016 at inside centre against Australia, when ducking back against the grain and weaving over the line in a manner uncannily reminiscent of you-know-who, and quick enough to have made his first four starts for Leinster on the wing.
He takes good lines and reads the game well but what sets his attacking game apart is his fiendish footwork. Short-listed for this season’s European Player of the Year, Ringrose features prominently on most attacking statistics in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup, and is fourth in most defenders beaten (33) and most carries (104).
He can be dangerous from anywhere on the pitch, witness that remarkable effort from 60 metres range in the semi-finals two seasons ago against Clermont. Taking Johnny Sexton’s pass, Ringrose stepped off his right first inside Damien Penaud and then Damien Chouly. Going over half-way he dummied past Scott Spedding, and then sped past Nick Abendanon to score. Not exactly a quartet of slouches either.
As with any outside centre, Ringrose does have to gamble in defence. Generally though, he makes good reads when shooting off the line, and although his statistics may sometimes include two or three missed tackles, very often this is because he has forced opponents back inside to waiting tackles.
Andy Farrell is one of many coaches who hails Ringrose’s spatial awareness.
“It is probably the hardest position on the field to defend. What Garry has got, he has got a feel for space. He knows when to put the pedal down and put the pressure on at the right time but he also knows when he is in that little bit of trouble and needs to give himself time and space. And he is normally good at making those decisions.”
The respect for Ringrose amongst his peers is palpable.
“Jeeze, what can you say about Garry?” asks another teammate rhetorically. “He’s an ultra professional in the way he goes about his business and he’s grown more into a leadership role as well. Defensively he’s unbelievable, so he’s starting to speak a bit more as well.”
“In another year, and maybe not even a year, he’s going to be outrageous. He’s so smart as a rugby player. He’s like O’Driscoll in the way he thinks about stuff and I think he’s starting to express himself a little bit more now.”
“But for a young fella, in how he looks after himself, and the way he goes about his business and the type of man he is, you couldn’t ask for better.”
Ringrose’s father Niall, was a good little scrum-half in both the Blackrock school and club before a serious injury ended his career prematurely. Ringrose has two brothers and a sister to his mum Anne and Niall, who works with the commercial property company IPUT, and grew up in Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, where he lives nearby himself.
Although Ringrose also went to Blackrock College, he did not have a particularly stellar schools career at first.
“Garry was the sub scrum-half behind Charlie Rock on the JCT Cup final team,” recalls Peter Smyth, who then coached the school’s seniors and is now Leinster’s academy manager. “At the end of the year we had a discussion and agreed that by the Senior Cup we needed to get both of them on the pitch.”
“Garry played full-back for two years under Justin Venstone in fourth and fifth year and come the final year the plan was for him to play in the back three. But as so often happens with the best laid plans, one of the potential 13s suffered a shoulder injury, we moved Garry in there and the rest, as they say, is history.”
In the final against a St Michael’s featuring a raft of current Leinster teammates at Donnybrook, Ringrose ripped the ball in the tackle in his own half to leave the covering defence in his wake to score an opportunist try.
He was also Blackrock’s goal-kicker, and landed 22 out of 24 in their Cup run according to Smyth. “His career path was a lot like Brian O’Driscoll’s. On the JCT, Brian was a wing, and then initially a sub scrum-half slash wing on the SCT team before playing at 10 and then ending up at outside centre.”
“Maybe there’s something to be said for outside centres benefitting from playing in different positions. Garry was a late developer who suddenly had a growth spurt from 17 to 19 or 20, also a lot like Brian, and then had the strength to go with his unbelievable skill level.”
Subsequently though, after playing his first two Irish Under-20 games in the 2014 Six Nations against Scotland and Wales, he was dropped for the remainder of the tournament by Mike Ruddock. But far from holding any hint of a grudge against Ruddock, Ringrose admitted it was the making of his Under-20 career.
“There were a few defensive issues because it can be a bit tricky at 13,” he admitted. “There was inexperience more than anything and once I got the knowledge and more games at that intensity, the more I learned.”
Ringrose was recalled for the Under-20 Junior World Championships in Italy later that summer, during which he scored three tries in helping Ireland reach the semi-finals, and was named on a four-man shortlist for World Junior Player of the Year.
Diligent in all he does, Ringrose has been described as a model pupil at school and is currently taking a Business and Law degree, while his longtime girlfriend Ellen Beirne is studying for her master’s degree in Dietetics, also in UCD. Rugby, family, Ellen and his studies takes up his life, and he is content and happy with that.
That said, his performances on the pitch and clean-cut, marketable image off it have led to him becoming an ambassador for Nike, PWC and Audi, and he recently did a campaign for Gillette, with whom O’Driscoll was also an ambassador.
Another player to be represented by Navy Blue Sports, it’s somewhat surprising that Ringrose, like James Ryan, is still on a provincial contract until the end of next season. Given he is hugely sought after in England and France, no less than Ryan, one imagines the IRFU will seek to promote Ringrose to an international contract sooner rather than later.
His value is only going in one direction.