Ringrose set for central role as Leinster host Connacht

Likes of experienced Bundee Aki set to test young prospect’s mettle during RDS meeting

The real shame is Robbie Henshaw will not be running this last time for Connacht against Leinster (or just the latest time if you believe in western miracles) with Garry Ringrose as the opposing centre.

All going well those two should be paired together in green jerseys as soon as this February. So says half of the duo who complied a record amount of caps in the Irish midfield between 2004 and 2014.

"You don't want to put undue pressure on young players," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen as the hype around Ringrose grows somewhat prematurely following his impressive showing in victory over Munster last Sunday in Thomond Park.

“In the lead in to Christmas Garry was doing his exams so we were trying to give him time off. He’s definitely someone we have earmarked to have a big involvement with Leinster for a large number of years. It’s about bringing guys through in the right fashion.”


As Cullen spoke in the RDS media room on Thursday the eyes couldn't but wander out onto the field. For all intensive purposes, Johnny Sexton appeared to be kicking through a fitness test. He seemed fine. Maybe he was reacclimatising to the angles of this old horse track.

Maybe Emmett Farrell and Girvan Dempsey – serious line kickers themselves once upon a time – were merely interested observers. Still, decent bag carrier and ball fetcher; Sexton eventually strolled away without much obvious discomfort.

The bench

There are plenty of other outhalves on show this evening.

Jack Carty

gets a run for Connacht ahead of Alan MacGinty while Craig Ronaldson’s left boot will be utilised from inside centre.

Ian Madigan is on the bench as Ben Te'o partners Ringrose in what could have been an Irish midfield one day if Te'o's impatience for international honours had not redirected him towards a new life in England.

Right now they are Bundee Aki’s problem. The former Chief will undoubtedly welcome Ringrose to the elite zone of centre collisions. Te’o will enforce when necessary. That whole subplot is worth the trip to Ballsbridge alone.

Cullen was keen to deflect attention away from Ringrose by highlighting the progress of other Academy players, like Ross Molony, but being a Junior World Player of the Year nominee in 2014 and following a similar path to Brian O'Driscoll from Blackrock College, the media really can't help itself at the moment.

"He's a very down to earth guy," said Rhys Ruddock, a flanker who himself was catapulted into the Ireland team at the age of 20. "He deals with the pressure well."

Of course there are plenty of other young players to pay close attention to here. In the second half another Seán O'Brien and well-sized lock in Ultan Dillane should enter the fray.

These are hard men with serious potential. O’Brien comes from a Cistercians Roscrea background while Dillane, while born in Paris, is of Kerry extraction.

Just as they enter the fray the original O'Brien should also be relieving Josh van der Flier. His battle with the finally fit Jake Heenan is another dual player-cam worth tracking around the field. Just watch every second breakdowns and you should find one of them.

“It’s great to have both Tom [McCartney] and Jake (Heenan] back from injury and ready for this game having joined us in training over the past few weeks,” said Pat Lam.

“Tom adds that bit of experience and leadership that is needed in these big games, especially with our young back line. We are all delighted to see Jake returning after what has been a challenging six months for him. He has worked extremely hard to get back to this point with the help of our medical and S&C teams and he is raring to go.

Good chance

“I’m pleased with the quality of the week’s preparation we have had . . . We travel to Dublin tomorrow confident in the knowledge that we have a good chance of getting the points on offer against Leinster as long as we play as a team and can take the opportunities we create.

“Although we face a big hurdle at the RDS, we are excited by it and are looking forward to the challenge.”

Despite all the infighting that is promised there is the matter of vital Pro 12 points to be earned. That’s the seasonal aim now; winning the league.

A Connacht victory would top anything they have achieved in an already highly impressive season that sees them currently second in the table on 34 points with seven victories from 10 outings.

Last season they won just 10 games in total. Lam truly has built a new era that looks sustainable – even despite a ridiculous injury list.

Cullen is attempting to finally start driving Leinster back to the sort of standards and success the Dublin 4 supporters have grown accustomed to.

Hard to see past another win that would see them leapfrog Connacht in the table. Too many Ireland internationals, and future ones too, for any other result.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent