Ireland’s international debutants eye up the real prize
Garry Ringrose and Billy Holland get first caps, but focus is on next clash with All Blacks
Ireland’s Garry Ringrose makes a break during the Guinness Series match against Canada at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
If Garry Ringrose can take one thing from his international debut, it’s that he and Joe Schmidt will no longer be pestered by enquires into when he is likely to play for Ireland.
The outside centre can also be satisfied with the reinforcement of his ability to almost always do the right thing at the right time. As with the Academy to Leinster “A”, Leinster and Ireland, the step-up was seamless, the offensive threat he possesses still alive at the higher level.
Ringrose could have walked away from Chicago torn that he didn’t play a part in the historic All Black win from the bench. But he’s too ordinarily minded to unwisely start a career on hurt feelings. His Irish journey has begun with a win over Canada, not on missing out on the spoils of Soldier Field.
“I suppose being over in Chicago was pretty cool,” he says. “To be over there and see what is expected of the players in the lead-up to one of the biggest games in Irish history was a cool experience. I was able to learn a few lessons and then bring it into this week.
“I was pretty nervous, to be honest, but I was excited at the same time. There was eight of us involved making our debut so a lot of the senior players stood up and made their voices heard.”
It was almost like a home game for the outside centre. His mother Ann and father Niall, a well-known player with Blackrock, could almost have walked to the ground from their home on Carysfort Avenue.
But debuts are emotionally charged. That’s what can make them difficult, and that there were eight on the night almost felt like a frenzied spending spree by the normally thrifty Schmidt. The anthem always brings it home.
“It was a pretty special moment,” says Ringrose. “I was thinking about my friends, family, past coaches and people that I’ve dealt with who have helped me get to this point. I was trying to do them justice.”
“Any exposure to high-intensity international games at 20s level has a knock-on effect. That kicks on when it comes to provincial. An opportunity to play in Pro12 games, whether it’s inter-pro derbies or European games, it’s all building so there’s never a huge leap. It’s a kind of a gradual progression.”
There was also a timeless feel to an international debut. It’s a crossed line, the certainty that a career of hard work and effort is justified and maybe even finally fulfilled.
Ringrose is 21 years old; Billy Holland is 31 – a decade apart in experience and age but together against Canada for a defining moment. The evening showed how those career cards sometimes fall.
“There was excitement but I didn’t have a great night’s sleep last night, to be honest with you, I was a bit edgy in bed all right,” Holland confides.
“But you try to keep telling yourself that you have almost 150 caps for Munster, that you’ve done this many times, it’s just another game of rugby. But when you’re standing, singing the national anthem . . . it is extra special.”
New Irish caps normally have to sing a song, a way of bringing them back to earth and keeping them humble in front of the squad.
“They told us that there won’t be eight songs anyway – that would take all night,” says Holland, laughing. He strikes you as someone who would smoke that challenge.
He knows his position is different to that of Ringrose. Ten years means something in professional sport so there is a different type of joy to be gained by both players. Holland does not want to be a one-cap wonder and Ringrose can aim for the stars with 13 on his back.
His youth alone allows him those thoughts. But somewhere in the middle prose meets poetry and they are the same. That meeting place was against Canada.
Celebrations over, both know what they face next.
“There’s one or two mistakes,” says Ringrose cautiously. “I’m looking forward to analysing stuff and trying to kick on from there and self-improve as much as possible.”
Holland is more critical, or maybe just a more confident voice as a team leader in Munster.
“I think we did really well at times and our discipline let us down a few times, and that will be a massive part of Joe’s game, discipline, and it let us down once or twice,” he says. “Everyone wants to be in that side that plays the All Blacks again next weekend.”
Both know that is the real prize coming out of Saturday.