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Ringrose seeking defensive improvements against high-flying Ospreys

The Leinster centre admits it’s been an adjustment trying to implement Stuart Lancaster’s philosophies.

Leinster centre Garry Ringrose at training this week.
Leinster centre Garry Ringrose at training this week.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

LEINSTER MAY BE welcoming back Johnny Sexton tonight but centre Garry Ringrose knows it will count for little unless they improve defensively for the visit of league leaders the Ospreys.

Leo Cullen’s side finished last year’s campaign with the best defensive record in the Guinness Pro12, conceding just 27 tries and a total of 290 points in their 22 regular-season games.

But Leinster, despite winning two of their opening three fixtures, have struggled in defence by comparison during this campaign, conceding nine tries and a total of 61 points in matches against Benetton Treviso (home), Glasgow Warriors (away) and Edinburgh (away).

Leinster have been conceding more than 20 points per game this season, compared to just over 13 in the 2015/16 edition of the league.

They are conceding, on average, 1.8 tries more per game than they were last season and they have shipped more points during this campaign than any other side in the top eight.

The recent departure of last year’s defence coach Kurt McQuilkin due to personal reasons has undoubtedly played a role but Ringrose is confident that Leinster’s defence is improving by the day as they become more familiar with the changes being made by Stuart Lancaster.

And they need to tighten up quickly because in the Ospreys they are facing the league’s best early-season attack, one that has scored 155 points, including 21 tries, in their opening three games, albeit against Zebre (home), Connacht (away) and Treviso (home).

“We’re trying to improve on our defensive system as much as possible and trying to get it right every time,” Ringrose tells The42.

“I suppose there are errors that we’ve all been guilty of but the more we do it hopefully the more ingrained it becomes in us.”

Garry Ringrose 1 (1) To celebrate the launch of the Audi Future Now 171 Sales Event, Leinster rugby player Garry Ringrose (pictured with the new Audi A3 Sportback) has been unveiled as Audi Ireland’s newest brand ambassador. For more information, visit www.audi.ie.

Former England head coach Lancaster has been trying to increase Leinster’s efficiency in the back-field so that they can get more bodies in the defensive line. And while Ringrose admits it has been an adjustment, he insists it’s been an enjoyable one.

“When everyone gets it right it can be really effective so it is just about repetition,” added Ringrose, who was also pleased to reveal he is now tipping the scales at about 94kg, a couple of kilograms above where he was at last season.

“Whether it’s training or it’s a match, it’s just about trying to implement his philosophies as best we can.

“I’d like to think we’re getting better week on week and even training session on training session. So hopefully we’ll see another improvement against Ospreys.”

Cullen has named a strong side for tonight’s game at the RDS [7.35pm, TG4] with Sexton making his first appearance of the season following shoulder surgery on an injury he picked in May’s Pro12 final against Connacht.

Tonight’s encounter is already shaping up as a huge fixture and there will be particular attention given to the battle at out-half, with Wales playmaker and fellow British and Irish Lions hopeful Dan Biggar making his first start of the season for the Ospreys.

Sexton is joined in the starting XV by a number of Ireland internationals including Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy and Devin Toner, who all featured in last weekend’s victory in Scotland. And they will go up against a pack featuring the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Paul James.

Leinster impressed in spells during their 33-20 win against Edinburgh, claiming their four-try bonus point in the first 35 minutes, with Ringrose’s first score of the season among them.

But they appeared to take their foot off the gas in the second period and the home side got in for a couple of tries, ensuring a tense finale before impressive flanker Dan Leavy, who is on the bench tonight, settled matters with his second try of the game on 79 minutes.

“First and foremost, to come away from Murrayfield with five points, we can’t be unhappy with that really, especially off the back of [the defeat to] Glasgow.

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“We were kind of happy again. Obviously there was a lot to learn from the game which is probably what we needed going into the Ospreys game.”

The Ospreys are flying high right now, having become the first Pro12 team to claim the maximum 15 points from their opening three games.

Steve Tandy’s side finished last year’s campaign in a disappointing eighth position but the four-time champions already look a much tougher proposition this season. Having said that, they haven’t won at the RDS since the 2012 Pro12 final.

Rhys Webb Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb in action against Connacht. Source: Camerasport/Simon King/INPHO

Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb puts their blistering start down to a productive off-season with a particular emphasis on skills, although he also highlighted their favourable draw in the opening three rounds.

“The boys have worked hard in pre-season on their skills,” Webb, who will partner Biggar in the halfbacks tonight, explains.

“The first three games we’ve seen some great skills from forwards and backs.

“Obviously you could question the opposition we’ve played against but we know that Leinster are going to be a completely different challenge to what we’ve faced in the first three games.”

Garry Ringrose Garry Ringrose in action against Edinburgh. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

A lot is also expected of Ringrose this year after he racked up 22 appearances and three tries across the Pro12 and Champions Cup in an impressive debut season in 2015/16.

But the amiable 21-year-old keeps himself busy off the field with his third-level studies in UCD and the occasional round of golf with his mates, although he admits, with a smile, that his golf game needs plenty of work.

Staying grounded away from rugby is clearly important to Ringrose, and he quickly corrects himself after referring to ‘work-ons’ that he is focusing on in his business and law degree. That part of his life is separate, and free of rugby jargon.

He got his first taste of an Ireland camp earlier this year, where head coach Joe Schmidt highlighted a number of areas that Ringrose needs to improve upon.

Some are expecting him to occupy the No 13 shirt for the national side for years to come, but Ringrose is focusing on improving week by week, and month by month. If he does that, he knows everything else will fall into place.

“I’m working hard defensively and trying to have a greater impact on attack, and on communication and stuff like that,” Ringrose adds.

“I wouldn’t really focus on long-term goals too much.

“I like to focus on the immediate; try to train as well as possible, improve as much as possible. If I follow that process everything seems to work out.”

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Alan Waldron

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