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'He doesn't defend like a luxury player': Ringrose perfect fit for Lions

Warren Gatland’s squad will be a poorer place if the Leinster centre doesn’t travel, says Shane Horgan.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AT THE RATE rugby players get injured in the modern game, not to mention the added workload of an old school tour with midweek matches, the good ship Lions has not entirely sailed for players like Garry Ringrose who narrowly missed the cut.

Yet there is no guarantee of that after he was omitted from Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad last week. Having seen first-hand the young centre scorch in a glorious try against Clermont on Sunday Shane Horgan is adamant that Ringrose more than merited inclusion.

The reasons are manifold: his defence-scything step in attack, his continual ability to confound assumptions about his ‘light’ frame in the tackle  and then there are the intangibles that only youth can bring.

“It was probably a toss-up between him and Jonathan Joseph because I think they see them as ‘luxury players’,” Horgan said as AIG launched their Ultimate All Blacks Experience competition.

“But I don’t see him as a luxury player. He doesn’t defend like a luxury player. How he can break up a game and the pace he has in the secondary line is just incredible.

“He still has his agility. I think  players now are losing their agility quite early.  You look at a player of 25 now, and you think: who can  step that hard, retain the pace and go through? There’s not too many….”

He’s naturally predisposed to having really good footwork. I wonder what the conversation would have been if selection was a week later. He made a very strong case for himself.”

So strong, that Ringrose is among the short-list of five for the European Player of the Year, alongside the holder of the honour Maro Itoje. The English lock is also the youngest member of Gatland’s squad at 22. The 23-year-old bracket is filled by Anthony Watson, Robbie Henshaw and Ross Moriarty – two well-established internationals and one odd coach’s call.

Before Horgan moved on to conversations around the Lions squad, he chatted about Leinster’s resurgence, and a point on that subject resonated for the summer’s big tour.

“Part of the ambition (Leinster) were showing and the enterprise and ingenuity fed back into the older players. I think (Johnny) Sexton is playing even flatter to the line than when he came back from France. He’s playing with more ambition.”

Examples of young, hungry players lighting up tournaments or reinvigorating teams by shaking up a lot of old dynamics are never hard to find. On a long tour in the New Zealand winter, when grave dark jerseys will follow the Lions waiting for every mis-step, perhaps a little youthful exuberance would be a tonic.

unnamed 2005 Lion, Shane Horgan and former All Black Doug Howlett, were in AIG offices in Dublin to launch AIG’s Ultimate All Blacks Experience competition; an all-expenses paid trip for two to New Zealand to watch the All Blacks take on the British and Irish Lions in June. For more information keep an eye on the AIG Ireland social media channels or log on to www.aig.ie/the-all-blacks/aig-lions-tour-competition. Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Ringrose’s absence also hints that Gatland will employ some familiarly robust tactics in New Zealand. The coach’s assertion that he has called Owen Farrell up as an out-half rather than a centre adds fuel to the theory that Robbie Henshaw or Ben Te’o will be faced with a lot of hard yards. Horgan feels that the Lions will be easy targets if Gatland has nothing more than ‘Warrenball’ in store for the back-to-back world champions.

“I think he may be thinking like that, but if he does they’re going to lose.

“One, it’s going to be really attritional early on and you’ll lose players. (Secondly,) I don’t think you’re going to beat new Zealand like that.

“If he picks Farrell as a 12 that changes things. But that means your midweek tam is going to play different from your ‘Test match team’. Then if anything happens to Sexton or Farrell, what do you revert back to?

“It’ll be interesting to see as the tour goes on what his thinking is. It’s quite hard to hold those two (gameplans) at the same time.”

Andy Farrell and Gatland may have eventually settled on the decision that Ringrose will be ready for anything in “six months’ time,” but every new hurdle placed in front of him since moving to the professional ranks has been cleared with aplomb.

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Sean Farrell

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