Four years ago, Garry Ringrose was a nobody, someone who had yet to make his Leinster debut when Ireland headed to the 2015 World Cup for a campaign clinically snuffed out by Argentina in the quarter-finals.
Now, he is an established figure on the Test circuit, as confidently adept as proven veterans Rob Kearney and Peter O’Mahony when turning on the charm at a recenty sponsor’s event at a west Dublin industrial estate that involved test driving an Audi e-tron, their new all-electric vehicle which looks “a bit of a beast”.
Ringrose is certainly no petrol head. Playing golf with pals around various south Dublin courses – “I’m brutal but enjoy the company, especially if it’s nice weather.”
Fishing in Dublin Bay on a rib with his father – “My dad puts down lobster pots out the back of Dun Laoghaire pier and there’s mackerel fishing… I wouldn’t go out that much but the odd afternoon every couple of months, it’s nice switching the phone off for a couple of hours and sneaking off.”
Or taking care of the latest business of law degree assignment – “UCD have been so helpful with their support based on the training schedule – there’s just one more year to go.”
There are all just as typical downtime distractions as going for a spin around town in a snazzy set of wheels. That said, there is great satisfaction derived from the look of awe on the faces of some mates when he gives them a lift in whatever the latest eye-catching Audi model he happens to be driving.
Ringrose’s lengthy relationship with the car manufacturer is reflective of his own journey from anonymity to a potential 2019 RWC star. Audi took a chance on him while he was still in Leinster’s academy, same as Leo Cullen did all those years ago at the Irish province. The rest, as they say, is history.
Grand Slam and Six Nations success with Ireland, a win over the All Blacks, the European and PRO14 double with Leinster… Ringrose has crammed so much into the first four years of his top-flight career.
It would be understandable if the 24-year-old has forgotten baby-steps crucial to his initial emergence, but his memories are encyclopaedic, the now well-established midfielder breezily transporting RugbyPass back to the time when it initially started happening for him.
“My first game was against Dragons. I was named on the bench, it was horrendous weather, I didn’t get on and I thought that was my shot gone,” he recalled about a developmental situation that will play out at his province again next month when the latest smart taxis off the youthful Leinster rank will try to make a lasting impression in the absence of this year’s World Cup contingent.
“It was the first game of the season so some guys weren’t quite back in, but the following week against Cardiff at the RDS, Leo gave me my first cap on the wing. It seems a while ago now but it’s fresh in the memory.
“The amount of rugby between then and now, I have been lucky to play as much. But I can remember supporting the lads going away to the World Cup and was as disappointed as they were with how it finished.”
Ireland’s match preparations for the latest finals get underway next weekend in Dublin ahead of a campaign that commences with the pivotal September 22 clash versus Scotland in Yokohama. Ringrose will step forward for friendly duty at some stage versus Italy, Wales (twice) or England knowing he is living up to the hype that has constantly surrounded his Test career.
Ever since he first appeared on the radar he was touted as the new Brian O’Driscoll, quite the burden for someone so young.
However, rather than feel crippled by that considerable expectation, he has thrived and his selection for Ireland’s last match – the March Six Nations defeat to the Grand Slam-clinching Welsh – saw him become the player most selected in the famed No13 shirt in Schmidt’s 67-match tenure, one appearance ahead of the retired Jared Payne and 10 more than the legendary BOD.
Eighteen starts in that outside centre jersey – plus another at No 12 – is no mean feat. Schmidt has used 16 players to make up 27 different midfield partnerships since he first took over in late 2013. Ringrose has been on the receiving end of the New Zealander’s rejection, partnerships with Payne, Rory Scannell and Stuart McCloskey being three of the 19 combinations only ever trialled once by the quality-demanding Schmidt.
However, alliances with Bundee Aki (seven starts) and provincial colleague Robbie Henshaw (six starts) have been far more fruitful to his development, generating hope this Irish class of 2019 won’t experience the disappointments of Ireland teams at previous World Cups.
“The stats speak volumes for the adaptability of players that have come in and out,” enthused the midfielder whose other three starts were in partnership with Luke Marshall. “There is that expectation to deliver no matter who you’re playing with and no matter what the combination is. There is a standard set and a standard that, as a group, we’re striving to achieve constantly.
“I consider myself lucky to have played alongside a lot of the guys I have and learning off how adaptable they are, covering me in certain instances and having my back. Just learning off stuff like that and bringing it into my own game.”
Trust is especially important as there are occasions where Ringrose’s missed tackle figures stand out as high. “It can be tricky at times. I have heard people say that before (that outside centre is the most difficult position defensively).
“When I find myself in close to the ruck sometimes in training it is far from what I’m used to. It feels a little bit out of sorts and I don’t feel as comfortable. But then similarly when people find themselves out at 13, they mightn’t be used to it and have the same uncomfortable feeling.
“I don’t know whether it is the most difficult (position). To be a good defensive team you have to have everyone clued in, sticking to the system but also bringing that energy and intent. It’s a combination of detail, character and work-rate.”
Like in any sports career, there is highs and lows. “There is a few pinch myself moments,” explained Ringrose, starting with the positives before veering into some negatives that have helped him become the talent he is.
"If you're mentally fresh and physically prepared, then you're more likely to enjoy what you're doing"
— InternationalRugbyPlayers (@IntRugbyPlayers) August 2, 2019
“I remember scoring my first try for Ireland. That is one of those moments, being out on the pitch at the Aviva and not believing that I had actually scored a try against Australia. We had played the week before against Canada and I actually got over but it was called a forward pass.
“Not that I would be particularly selfish or judge myself on how many tries I score, but I just remember it being a pinch yourself moment when I scored against Australia. There has been a rake of moments between then and now, the obvious ones are lifting the trophies.
“The difficult moments helped shape my attitude towards the game and what I have learnt. There is a rake of moments I’d love to change, a moment of time I’d love to have made a different decision or done something differently in preparation.
“But it’s one big learning curve and chatting to a lot of players, you remember your tough losses more than your great wins. Recently, against Saracens (in the European final) there is a couple of moments I would take back but again it is just a learning curve.
“I remember semi-finals, being beaten back to back by Clermont and Scarlets in 2017. Those two games were pretty tough to take but were a huge motivating factor for the year that followed (Leinster went on to win the double). I don’t know if I would go back and change anything. It’s just one big learning curve.”
That curve is now priming him for Japan, a no-expense-spared outlay by five-star Ireland which he doesn’t take for granted knowing how pool rivals Samoa are taking public donations to fund the cost of its players being away from their clubs for the finals.
— PacificRugbyWelfare (@pacificwelfare) November 26, 2017
“I wouldn’t know as much or be as informed as you are but without a doubt, I’m insanely privileged, incredibly privileged to be in the situation that I am in as part of the Ireland team. The support network around the team has been massive part in the team being successful over the last couple of years. I feel very privileged.”
Not that everything Ireland does costs a packet. “We used bin bags for one of the training sessions to try and simulate sweating pretty heavily. It worked. It’s tough training in bin bags.
“It’s warm enough as it is (in Ireland), but the heat is one of those things – it will be the same challenge for players of all the countries. It’s just trying to train with the best intensity you can and then be able to cope over there,” said Ringrose, who – if selected – will travel to Japan drawing on the experience of a fortnight there in 2017.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) August 1, 2019
“It was great craic. The results went our way as well which made it enjoyable. It’s an incredible city, Tokyo. We travelled on the bullet train to Shizuoka which was an experience, travelling the length of Ireland in the space of an hour or something.
“The culture is a little different to what we’re used to but it’s an amazing country and anyone that goes will have an unbelievable time. It helps if you like Japanese food – you don’t have to walk very far to find a nice restaurant.
“When we were there it was incredibly hot, between 30°C and 35°C most of the time but it wasn’t as humid. It will be interesting, this challenge. It will be similar heat that we’re exposed to but just a little bit more humid.
“It will be about everyone adapting as best they can. We will hopefully be there for a long time and the body has a knack of adapting to its environment and getting more comfortable. It should be fine.
“Everyone had dreamt of achieving the highest success before, but where the focus is is just in the immediate challenge. As you mentioned, (golf’s Open winner) Shane Lowry was phenomenal, but if he was thinking about the last day during the second last round he probably wouldn’t have played as well as he did.
“There is a lesson in that, focusing on what is in front of you and whatever happens happens from then on in. It was pretty special watching him do it and he had the whole country behind him celebrating when he won.
“I wouldn’t be able to pull stats like that (on Ireland’s poor RWC history) but I know talking to some people who are saying, ‘I’m going over to Japan for the quarters, for the semis’. From my perspective, it’s just focusing on the first game. The second you start looking ahead, that can be your downfall.”
One step at a time is an approach extending to Ringrose’s family who have yet to pull the trigger on travel plans for the finals, instead waiting until it’s confirmed Garry has officially made it into Ireland’s 31-man squad from there 45 currently in training for a campaign where the mimimum ambition is to reach a first-ever World Cup semi-final.
“It’s a tricky one. With the selection, you don’t know if you will make the 31. Excluding that, injury, that old cruel fate, could sneak up and that could be it. My parents are in limbo but hopefully all going well they will go and everything works out, but you just don’t know. It’s a work in progress. We’ll wait and see how the next few weeks go.”
WATCH: Part one of Operation Jaypan, the two-part RugbyPass documentary on what the fans can expect to experience at this year’s World Cup in Japan
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