Garry Ringrose says the extended Ireland squad could not be more motivated as they get set to face the All Blacks XV and World champions South Africa on successive days.
It will be a big moment in Ringrose’s career if he is selected to play against the Springboks. Their last visit to Dublin in November 2017 coincided with his rehabilitation period from shoulder surgery.
Roll on five years and now with 44 caps to his name, the Leinster centre is the fourth-most capped back in Ireland’s Bank of Ireland Nations Series squad. There is added excitement regarding Saturday’s opening opponents.
“I haven’t played South Africa before. Obviously played against a few of the guys at club (level), but first crack against them in a Test so it’s an exciting one,” insisted Ringrose.
“They’ve come out with a strong squad, I think they could have picked any number of permutations. It’s an unbelievably strong squad they’ve gone for.
“It’s exciting getting to test yourself against the best. A team that can beat you right across the park, in a couple of different ways. It kind of motivates you for the week to be at your best and prep as best you can.”
Concussion ruled Ringrose out of Ireland’s series-clinching win over New Zealand in July, but he has started the new season with an injury-free run in Leinster blue, including a two-try player-of-the-match performance against the Cell C Sharks.
He is clearly enjoying his rugby at the moment – also getting the chance to show his leadership qualities when captaining Leinster against Benetton Rugby, Ulster and Connacht – and is eager to make his mark on these November clashes.
“It’s good. I feel grateful to have gotten a couple of cracks and managed to stay injury free. It’s been enjoyable and challenging at the same time, so hopefully (I) can keep it going.
“Over the summer I didn’t play as much rugby as I would have liked, with getting the head knock in the second Test. So, after a couple of weeks, you’re excited to get back and get a crack at it.
“Thankfully I’ve been able to stay injury free. Playing good rugby or trying to play good rugby in challenging games, you have to be at your best each week. Just enjoying that and hopefully I can keep it going.”
Hosting South Africa comes at an opportune time for Andy Farrell’s men, with the sides’ Rugby World Cup pool showdown now less than a year away, and Ireland determined to stay on an upward curve after winning the Triple Crown and summer tour silverware.
The addition of the Ireland ‘A’ v All Blacks XV game to the autumn schedule also gives the coaches more time to work with and develop the young players who, as IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora noted, are ‘craving opportunities to show how good they can be’.
Some of the players involved in the Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa are in with the senior contingent in camp, swelling the numbers at training to 49. Ringrose says their presence has ‘added a different edge to the week’.
“It’s been exciting coming in just with the amount of people, a lot of guys coming off the back of a really good (Emerging Ireland) tour in South Africa, excited to get another crack,” he acknowledged.
“It brings another level of competition to the group to try and play in both games, so it’s really cool to be a part of.
It benefits the group because you’ve different teams preparing for different opposition. In training you kind of see different pictures that you wouldn’t be exposed to when it’s just prepping for the one team.
“Training there today was really challenging because we were throwing stuff at each other that we wouldn’t have been exposed to before.
“I’m sure South Africa and New Zealand (All Blacks XV) will have come up with things to try and break us down, so to be sort of ready for the unknown is part of the challenge as well.”
The 27-year-old is expecting two high-intensity encounters this weekend, especially with a number of players who featured in the Ireland-Māori All Blacks series in the summer set to cross swords again at the RDS.
Once confirmation came through of the Ireland ‘A’ match, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said ‘the Māori games gave that young group a great insight into what it takes to compete in international rugby and this fixture will allow us to expose more players to that level of competition’.
Ringrose concurs that you are always learning in the international environment, whether you are an uncapped player or a Test centurion like captain Jonathan Sexton. The potential for growth is always there.
Reflecting on the summer tour and how they can build on those performances, he remarked: “I guess we’re always learning something about ourselves. It started from that Māori game in Hamilton, and then the first Test in Eden Park we learnt a good bit about ourselves. You get loads from games like that.
“Equally from the second and third Tests, we were just getting so much from it. I guess we’re trying to continue that growth and evolution, and I’ve no doubt we’ll learn something about ourselves – win or lose – on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s part of the evolution, we’re trying to grow and get better. Testing ourselves against South Africa is a good way to start.”
Ringrose readily accepts that the Springboks’ ‘power game is ‘the foundation of how they play’, but highlights their versatility ‘in the fact that they can beat teams right across the park’.
He knows that Ireland will ‘have to be on it’ to deal with the threats the ‘Boks pose in the back-line, particularly from their lightning-quick back-three of Cheslin Kolbe, who moves to full-back for the first time, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Makazole Mapimpi.
A try scorer against Japan, Wales and New Zealand in the last twelve months, Ringrose has not discounted playing on the wing – where he had an excellent cameo against the Sharks recently – as Farrell reminded him, ‘you have to be ready for all eventualities!’.
“I’m happy to go wherever I can get on the pitch. If it means wing, centre, whatever it is. I’ll stick my hand up and give it a crack,” he added.
“I remember I started on the wing, my first (Leinster) cap under Leo Cullen. Under Joe (Schmidt) as well, he was always telling me to be ready on the wing.
“Even World Cup challenges, when the squad’s a little shorter, you’re always challenged to play more than one position or know what to do. I think as a 13 as well, your relationship with your winger is so important both defensively and then on attack.
“I guess playing 13 helps when I’m out (on the wing), because I know what the guys inside are thinking and maybe know what the half-backs are thinking, just from a little bit further out, and have a different angle on the game.
“As how a lot of teams are attacking, the wingers are getting more and more involved. So, to have the ability to play in the middle as well as out wide is probably expected of most outside backs now.”