A shaft of light amid the glooming. Garry Ringrose is believed to have signed a two-year contract to continue playing with Leinster and Ireland until at least the end of the 2021-22 season.
Somewhat surprisingly, it will be the 25-year-old's first central contract with the IRFU, having hitherto been on a provincial contract with Leinster. Ringrose had intimated a desire to continue playing within these shores for his native province and had seemed unperturbed that the negotiations had dragged into the Six Nations.
Speaking last January, Ringrose said: "Hopefully I can sort something out in the next couple of weeks – get things right. Obviously I am working with Niall Woods, my agent, and both my parents weigh in as well on whatever needs to be looked at. I take a step back outside of rugby and take a look at what is best and flick a switch back into rugby and forget about that that.
“The stage I am at, that is all going on in the background, but hopefully I can sort it out. I’m certainly looking forward to this year. I usually narrow the focus to the nearest challenge in terms of with Leinster, so it’s getting picked to play on any given week and then to keep driving towards the ultimate goal. Then the same with Ireland.
“I would obviously love to continue that for as long as I could,” he added, in a clear statement of intent to remain on home soil.
Even so, as one of the last frontline Irish players to be out of contract at the end of the current 2019-20 season, his new deal will be a relief to Leinster and their supporters, as well as Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
All things being equal, and given a reasonable run of luck with regard to injuries, Ringrose should soon be entering his prime years and is thus likely to be an integral part of Farrell’s Ireland team over the next four years. That’s been his destiny for some time.
A relatively late developer at Blackrock College, by his own admission Ringrose had a "ropey" first under-20 Six Nations in 2014 when dropped by Mike Ruddock after two games. But he was a star turn at the 2014 under-20 World Cup, when scoring three tries in Ireland's run to the semi-finals and being named on the four-man shortlist for World Junior Player of the Year.
Ringrose made his debut for Ireland against Canada at the Aviva Stadium in November 2016 at the age of 21, and went on to be an ever-present in the 2017 Six Nations. He should have been included in the Lions squad but, having toured the USA and Japan with Ireland, he suffered a shoulder injury which sidelined him until the following December.
Even then, an ankle injury while playing for Leinster meant he didn’t play in the Test arena again until Ireland’s penultimate game of the 2018 Six Nations at home to Scotland, which was his first match in nine weeks. He then scored a try in the Grand Slam coronation at Twickenham a week later.
Ringrose was also an integral part of Leinster's ensuing Champions Cup and Pro14 double and – combining his studies in commerce and law with rugby – he actually sat an exam in the Leinster team hotel on the morning of that European final win over Racing in Bilbao.
Despite all that he remained on an improved two-year provincial contract that summer.
A part of the team which beat the All Blacks in Dublin, Ringrose remained a regular in Ireland’s anti-climactic World Cup campaign and a broken thumb suffered in the opening win over Scotland ended his 2020 Six Nations. His haul of 24 caps would have been much more but for those injuries.
Now, though, whenever rugby resumes Ringrose will at least be back to full fitness and will be an integral part of Leinster and Ireland.
Blessed with wonderful footwork, a supremely balanced runner and deceptively strong, Ringrose makes excellent reads in defence, and has an under-rated kicking game. He has overcome a dip in confidence at the start of the 2019-20 season and despite his modest, low-key persona off the pitch, he is clearly becoming more of a leader on it judging by the way he talks more in huddles.
"He's a fantastic talent," Stuart Lancaster once said of Ringrose. "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 [Sexton].”