Leinster should look to Ringrose as Te’o decides to move on
Leinster should see what they really have in the young man already in blue
Gary Ringrose in action against Scarlets. It’s time to consider bumping Te’o to the end of the centre queue and invest that time into someone who might offer Leinster, and Ireland, a greater return. Photograph: Ian Cook/Inpho
Another former South Sydney Rabbitohs star moves to England to play international rugby (stop me if you’ve heard this one before).
He will play no part in Leinster’s medium-term future and any possibility of his taking the Jared Payne route to late-qualifying Irish Test status is now gone. He is England’s now. Or Australia’s.
Upon confirmation of the Te’o signing, Opta’s rugby union twitter account took to the airwaves. Most defenders beaten by any Leinster player since he arrived at the province, it said. It was behooven of this parish to check the figures.
It is true, he has beaten more defenders than any Leinster man since his arrival (a nose ahead of Luke Fitzgerald on both the raw stat and on a per 80 minutes basis). His fast footwork and good lines had been positives and in his limited audition against Toulon last weekend he had been a key part of what had been to that point a rousing performance.
Not for long though, as Leinster bowed to penalties, errors and muscle. In many ways, however, that loss was a blessing. Hope is gone, replaced with a clear focus on league position and player development.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy was described neatly by Stephen Dubner, he of the Freakonomics books and podcasts: “A ‘sunk cost’ is just what it sounds like: time or money you’ve already spent. The sunk-cost fallacy is when you tell yourself that you can’t quit because of all that time or money you spent. We shouldn’t fall for this fallacy, but we do it all the time.”
If one forgot the league-convert hoopla, Ben Te’o has been decent for Leinster. Perhaps they will decide to squeeze every living drop out of him in an effort to earn the most from their investment. This would, however, ignore the benefits that could accrue by benching Te’o in favour of developing a young Irish talent.
Irish provinces may be handicapped when it comes to paying top-dollar wages for top-dollar stars. Leinster do, however, have a strong production line. In a European rugby economy where great value is placed on signing marketable stars in or beyond their prime, it behoves Irish rugby to concentrate on youth. But player development cannot be achieved in training alone; game time is key.
Garry Ringrose has something about him. A whiff of possibility. Amidst the constant talk of Robbie Henshaw moving east, Leinster should see what they really have in the young man already in blue. Not glimpses on the wing, but starting in the centre. Back three options are not thin on the ground for Leo Cullen (or Joe Schmidt).
Jonathan Sexton needs a recharge; Ian Madigan needs faith. Luke Fitzgerald needs to continue worshipping whatever injury god is currently smiling upon him. Adding Ringrose into the starting mix would provide excitement, something important when a marketing department thinks about season ticket renewal time.
It is not the old Pro12, however; the league portrayed by some across the Irish Sea as no more than extended semi-contact sessions for the wily Celts. A firm eye must be kept on league standings for Champions Cup seeding. Given the number of Leinster players away at the Rugby World Cup, sitting fourth in the Pro12 with a game in hand is not too bad.
Ahead of Leinster, Connacht have caught the injury bug. Behind, Ulster will have European distraction for some time yet. This weekend’s opponents are a Munster side sitting in third while owning a negative points difference (four of Munster’s six wins have been by four points or fewer).
While that balance must be struck between present and future, Ringrose has already shown he can play in this company. Noel Reid too when he returns from injury. Time to consider bumping Te’o to the end of the centre queue and invest that time into someone who might offer Leinster, and Ireland, a greater return.
This column wishes Ben Te’o well. A sportsperson’s career is short and he had choices to make. But Leinster have choices too. Excluding possible playoff games, there remain 2,560 playing minutes for Leinster centres this season. They should be distributed wisely.