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Ringrose Raring To Go For ‘Special’ Springbok Challenge

Ringrose Raring To Go For ‘Special’ Springbok Challenge

Garry Ringrose spoke to the media this week before the Ireland squad flew out to Johannesburg to begin the summer tour ©INPHO/Tom Maher

Garry Ringrose is looking refreshed and raring to go as Ireland’s Test series against South Africa provides an opportunity to put an injury-enforced spell on the sidelines behind him.

Ringrose has only played 92 minutes of rugby since late January, as a shoulder injury sustained in Investec Champions Cup action against Leicester Tigers limited him to just one appearance off the bench as Ireland retained the Guinness Men’s Six Nations title.

A small fracture in the same area unfortunately meant the 29-year-old’s return for Leinster was delayed until the recent BKT United Rugby Championship semi-final defeat to the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, the venue for Ireland’s summer tour opener against South Africa.

It was actually his first time to play on South African soil, and certainly whetted his appetite for what is to come in Pretoria on Saturday week, and at Durban’s Hollywoodbets Kings Park where the two-match series concludes on July 13.

“It was my first time in South Africa with Leinster or playing rugby at all, and also the first time at altitude,” said Ringrose, referencing Leinster’s 25-20 play-off loss to the Bulls which he started at outside centre.

“You feel it in the lungs and the legs maybe a little bit sooner than you would back home. But then it just kind of plateaus as that for the rest of the game, so it’s challenging but once you get over it, it’s fine.

“I had missed the previous tours and stuff, so it was cool to be there and experience an iconic stadium like Loftus, the passionate fans and all that.

“Hopefully the fact we’ve been there before helps. I feel really lucky and appreciative to be able to get in (the tour squad) having not played that much rugby over the last couple of months.

“Excited to get any opportunity to be in here with the group, to go down to South Africa and the challenge that that will be. I feel very lucky.”

Ringrose was an impatient onlooker for much of the business end of Leinster’s 2023/24 campaign, edging closer to a comeback but only able to train and not put his hand up for selection as the province competed for silverware on two fronts.

It was clearly a frustrating period for the Leinster co-captain, but the timing has worked out in Ireland’s favour as he could play a key role for Andy Farrell’s men as they look to end a long season by overturning the Springboks on their home turf.

“It’s great to be able to get back for the end of the season. You’re rehabbing at Leinster and you see guys who have much more difficult injuries, and that puts things into perspective.

I just had a fracture that was really small. I didn’t need an operation, I just needed time in the saddle for the bone to heal. I was still able to train, non-contact bib and stuff.

“I was consulting with the surgeon, Hannan Mullett in Santry, and obviously the medical team in Leinster. I was itching to get back but they kind of put my safety first and then thankfully it got to a point where they were happy with the healing.

“It was actually a really simple injury, but just timing-wise it wasn’t great. I was grateful to be able to get back towards the end, despite not getting the result we wanted. To get selected to be in camp and get a chance to play now, I feel extra lucky.”

Ringrose linked up last week with an Ireland squad that includes three uncapped players, two of them being his Leinster team-mates, Jamie Osborne and Sam Prendergast. The young pair know the ropes within the national set-up and are understandably eager to kick on.

“Delighted for them,” he said when asked about the inclusion of both Osborne and Prendergast. “Both having been in camps, so it’s great for them that they’re able to kind of hit the ground running.

“Obviously I don’t think anyone wanted all of us to be able to train last week, but it was good to be able to get two training days under our belt and get a step ahead preparation-wise.

“Those lads have been pretty seemless getting into training and driving the standard, and sort of competitive edge, amongst everyone.”

Ringrose’s own Ireland debut came shortly after the 2016 tour to South Africa, and while shoulder surgery saw him miss the 2017 match in Dublin, he was a starter for both of Ireland’s two most recent meetings with the Springboks.

He had Stuart McCloskey, before his first half injury-enforced departure, and Jimmy O’Brien alongside him in midfield for the 19-16 home win over South Africa in November 2022, and last September’s Rugby World Cup pool game saw him combine with Bundee Aki.

The ‘Boks rebounded from that 13-8 defeat at the Stade de France to retain the World Cup, and Ringrose, who returned from a HIA to play 49 minutes of that heavyweight clash, is expecting an even stiffer challenge during this series.

“I guess it’s an unbelievably special opportunity to play against the back-to-back World champions,” he acknowledged, speaking before Farrell’s charges flew from Dublin to Johannesburg.

“It’s tough to take when you lose, but you’ve got to admire what they’ve done (in retaining the World Cup). To get the opportunity to challenge ourselves against them, it’s as good as it gets.

“The two games I’ve been involved in (2022 and 2023) have been so tight and the result has fallen on the most minute moments.

“Unbelievably special days to be a part of, but it doesn’t change how much respect, and how motivated we’ll be to prepare to try and do that again.

“Our results certainly don’t count for much. It’s to try prepare as well as we did previously, if not more. They’ve improved since we last played them, definitely. That’s the challenge for us.”

Ireland’s Leinster contingent have gained some insight this year into how South Africa approach things with their close working relationship with Jacques Nienaber, who coached the ‘Boks to World Cup glory in France before joining Leinster as their senior coach.

While being ‘unbelievably physical is almost a given’ with South Africa, they present a number of other threats both individually and collectively, and will be hugely fired up for their first home fixtures since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup eight months ago.

“You just have to be on it,” insisted Ringrose. “You have to be physically ready for the fight at every sort of contact, battle.

“The intricacies to how they defend, even talking to Jacques, it’s funny preparing for them loads and trying to understand what they’re doing, and then maybe speaking to their coach and understanding their philosophy a little bit more in what they’re trying to do.

“That’s kind of cool because you compare the thinking, the perception, to the reality of it. Then, on attack you see last week (in the Wales game) how dangerous they are and the individuals they have and even how cohesive they looked at times, even with a few new faces.

“The group seems to be pretty consistent or a pretty consistent core over the last eight years, so you just need to be on it, across anything, to try to beat them.”

He added: “The connection between the backfield and the frontline is massive. The decision-making at 13 and for the wings is massive against them, because they’re so good and have backed it up with two World Cups.

“If you get it wrong you suffer the consequences and that mightn’t be the case against other opposition, at club or international (level), where you can potentially make a mistake and get away with it. The guys they have don’t allow for that. It’s the beauty of the challenge, I guess.”