It speaks volumes that after a season in which he made his Under-20 RBS 6 Nations and Junior World Championship debuts, Ireland’s 2014 Junior World Player of the Year nominee feels there is room for improvement.
Under-20 international rugby is often a character-building experience for many of the players, where they can rise to a challenge laid down by a coach or bounce back from a confidence-denting setback or defeat.
That moment came for Garry Ringrose after the Ireland U-20s’ disappointing 16-0 home defeat to Wales in last year’s Six Nations, and he certainly rose to the challenge.
Mike Ruddock’s youngsters duly gained revenge on the Welsh at the Junior World Championship, running out 35-21 winners, and the young centre’s stellar performances in New Zealand helped the Irish to their best ever JWC finish of fourth.
Reflecting on his first year with the Ireland U-20s and his recruitment into the Leinster Academy, Ringrose said: “It’s been brilliant. Very exciting, kinda hectic but from my point of view, I’m just keeping my head down and focusing on the next task which is the next game (against France).
“Each training session, take it for what it is and try and be better then when I started. There is a lot going on but in my head it’s quite simple, I’m just focusing on each day.
“It was a good year for me but I learnt a lot of harsh lessons and I’m certainly not going to sit still or get comfortable. (This season with the Ireland U-20s) will be about building on a lot of aspects of my game and trying to get that collective improvement around us and build on last year’s Six Nations, so I certainly wouldn’t be sitting still.”
Ringrose played in last Friday’s 47-15 opening victory for the Ireland U-20s over Italy. An adjustment of the game-plan due to the snowy and muddy conditions did not hinder them as they ran in seven tries. But the two tries which they conceded were ‘preventable’, and tonight’s clash with the French in Athlone is a chance to right a few wrongs.
The UCD and Leinster contingent in the Irish back-line were prominent against the Italians, with half-backs Ross Byrne and Nick McCarthy scoring 17 points between them, including a try for the latter, full-back Billy Dardis touching down and Ringrose providing the assist for Greg O’Shea’s try.
“There is a lot of depth (in the current Irish squad) and there is an abundance of talent. If there is an injury or form drops, there is someone waiting or itching to take that starting spot. There is no one immune to being dropped,” insisted the talented 20-year-old, who has a new centre partner this week in Ulster Academy member Sam Arnold.
“There is a lot of excitement and we enjoy playing together (in the back-line), trying to play as attractive a brand (of rugby) as possible, given the conditions. We are excited but we are keeping our heads down and trying to do the simple things well.”
Out-half Byrne had an outstanding game in Italy, kicking six out of seven conversions and creating the spark for the back-line to ignite. It is just what has come to be expected of the former St. Michael’s College student, who, like Ringrose, has been playing for Leinster ‘A’ in this season’s British & Irish Cup.
“He (Byrne) was fantastic, as good as ever. Great kicking game and really takes charge on the pitch. Joey Carbery, who was the sub out-half, ended up coming on the wing (as an injury replacement) and did just as good a job, even though he was out there. He was very dangerous, I think he got an assist as well, sticking Billy in.”
Ringrose explains that new Ireland Under-20 head coach Nigel Carolan and his management team encourage the players to take ownership of the team, something that they have clearly responded to.
“We have our patterns and have our plays that we try and cut opposition teams open with and they change depending on the opposition with the analysis we’ve done.
“Nige does encourage us to play, to look up and play what’s in front of us as did Mike (Ruddock), in fairness. It’s just building each game, each training session, so that we are better than when we started.”
That leaves the threat posed by tonight’s visitors to Dubarry Park, France, who racked up 47 points at home against the Scots in round 1. Last year’s Grand Slam winners will offer a huge challenge to Carolan’s charges with Ringrose stating that they will have to be at their best to deal with the French attacking threat.
“They are incredibly physical, big guys. They will run directly at us, try and bully us and at the same time they have the ability to play out wide and play around us. We’ve looked individually at what they are like and collectively. They are very talented, so we are going to have to bring our ‘A’ game, defensively anyway, to try and counteract that.”