Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# US-bound
Ringrose's opportunity adds extra layer of intrigue to Ireland's Chicago trip
The 21-year-old looks set for his Ireland debut this weekend.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

THE FIRST WORDS we hear after passing through security checks at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago are as follows.

“You smell that? That’s the smell of freedom!”

Clearly happy to be home, you could forgive this man his strong show of patriotism.

You then wonder what stepping onto US soil will be like for Garry Ringrose. What metaphorical scent will hit the Leinster centre’s nostrils as he lands in Chicago today, ahead of what looks like being his Ireland debut?

Ringrose appears to be ready to make the step up, with added kilos on his frame, and the kind of defensive decision-making that many Test players lack. Joe Schmidt has wisely been patient with the 21-year-old, as have Leinster – much to their credit.

Rory Scannell and Garry Ringrose James Crombie / INPHO Ringrose carries the ball against Munster. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Ringrose hasn’t suffered much in the way of setbacks in his young career yet and, though he can come across as shy, he has the kind of confidence in his ability that is essential for hitting the heights so many have predicted for him.

The UCD student was part of a 17-man Ireland training hit-out in Dublin last Thursday, as Joe Schmidt looked to get reps into his frontliners before Saturday’s Test with the All Blacks in Chicago.

On form, Ringrose is Ireland’s 13, particularly with Jared Payne having been so impressive at fullback during the summer tour to South Africa.

Ringrose has linked superbly with Robbie Henshaw in their early days as Leinster’s new centre partnership, and that will have strengthened Schmidt’s confidence that the youthful duo can deliver on the Test stage in Chicago.

With suspension preventing Keith Earls from featuring at Soldier Field, Simon Zebo and Andrew Trimble look nailed on to start in the wing positions for Ireland, while Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are the first-choice halfbacks.

Jack McGrath is one of the finest looseheads in the game and will look to get a set-piece nudge on the All Blacks along with captain Rory Best and the prime slab of Wexford beef that is Tadhg Furlong.

Devin Toner’s lineout leadership and experience will be important in the second row, while Schmidt has an interesting decision to make between Ultan Dillane and Donnacha Ryan for the other locking spot.

Either way, Dillane – yet to start a game for Ireland – and Ryan can both be counted on to deliver bench impact, something that is going to be essential against Steve Hansen’s side. Ryan’s experience might just give him the advantage this week.

Joe Schmidt Billy Stickland / INPHO Schmidt has some big calls to make. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The back row has been a major conundrum for Ireland, although Jamie Heaslip is locked in at number eight. In terms of pure form and fitness, CJ Stander and one of Josh van der Flier and Jordi Murphy should join him in the back row, but those aren’t the only factors involved.

Peter O’Mahony has shown up well on his return for Munster in recent times, and has proven test pedigree as well as world-class lineout skills and extensive leadership qualities. That said, he remains short of his athletic best after a year out of the game.

Sean O’Brien, too, is only on the comeback trail from his own injury travails and he doesn’t yet fully look his old self. There have been the turnover penalties that provide huge psychological strength to team-mates and some powerful carries, but he is not match fit.

The yellow card incident against Connacht last weekend was needless, and one senses that Schmidt wouldn’t have appreciated that show of indiscipline. Clearly, O’Brien is a world-class player at his best and that certainly counts for something.

Fascinating possibilities for Ireland, all of them, though you wouldn’t get a sense of that in Chicago. The Cubs are prime focus right now, with last night’s win 3-2 win over the Indians keeping the World Series contest alive into Tuesday night’s Game 6.

Celebrations at this prolongation of the series were intense.

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“I’m going in here for a beer,” says one tall man bedecked in Cubs’ gear, before pulling on a closed door.

“Mike, that’s a barber’s, not a bar,” responds his female friend.

“God, why are you wrecking my shit?” says the angry Mike, aware that all has not gone to plan. Another busy night awaits on Tuesday for Game 6.

Aaron Smith Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Aaron Smith is in Chicago with the All Blacks. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

While Ireland arrive today, the All Blacks flew in late last week to begin their charm offensive, training with local schools players and fitting in a visit to a Bulls’ NBA clash in between promotional gigs around the city.

Reports are of a very relaxed All Blacks camp as they near the end of a long season. There is much, much more to play for and they could extend their winning streak to 22 games by the end of November if form and fitness are maintained.

While Chicago itself might not be taking too much notice for now, Soldier Field will be close to full on Saturday and you sense that Schmidt will fancy Ireland’s chances of causing a major upset. The interest levels are bubbling.

If Ringrose is named in Schmidt’s starting XV on Thursday, as increasingly looks like it could be the case, the intrigue will only deepen.

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