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'The biggest honour' for Ringrose as he prepares to lead Leinster against Ulster

Ulster have an uphill struggle ahead as the reigning champions show the extent of their strength in depth.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

expectIT’S HARDLY HOW he imagined it unfolding, what with the Aviva Stadium being a 55,000 lock-out for today’s Guinness Pro14 final (kick-off 19.35, TG4, eir Sport), but Garry Ringrose won’t let circumstances diminish his enjoyment of a long-held ambition.

Today he is Leinster captain.

It’s a role that seems tailor made to him. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, clean cut and even-toned. His schooling and position made comparisons with Brian O’Driscoll unavoidable. It’s almost strange that it’s taken until now, at the grand old age of 25, for him to lead his native province from the start in a big game. And yet, when he took over at the tail end of Leinster’s semi-final win over Munster last weekend, it felt like the beginning of something.

“It’s probably the biggest honour of my rugby career,” Ringrose told a video press conference after the team was selected yesterday, “not even career, probably since I started playing rugby if I’m being honest.

So it’s an incredibly special moment, an incredibly special opportunity.”

The centre doesn’t take long to snap himself out of the awe of being named captain for a final, showing those leadership credentials through his steady handed approach.

“I had to flick the switch and realise that’s irrelevant come Saturday, that what’s important is ultimately how we perform as a team. So it was a special moment finding out but since then it’s been focused on what really matters this week.”

The honour passes to Ringrose despite the presence of James Ryan (a contender for Ireland captaincy early this year) 98-Test-capped Cian Healy and the senior man in the centre Robbie Henshaw.

With Jonathan Sexton held in reserve (a call apparently made with an eye on Saracens as much as today’s final quarter) alongside Scott Fardy and Luke McGrath, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster took away three captaincy options from the starters. The senior man in the starting line-up, Devin Toner, welcomed a new baby this week.

In Leinster, there is never much trepidation about promoting or placing responsibility on young talent. Because quality support is never far away.

“I think it’s when you see people influencing the group really,” Cullen said when asked about Ringrose’s credentials as a captain.

“He’s such a key student of the game really. He’s always looking to improve himself, whether that’s his attacking skills, his defensive reading of the game, understanding the situations.

garry-ringrose Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We had a leadership group last year…  because Garry was away at the Wold Cup, he’s not around for (2019) pre-season. But now because we’ve had this pre-season together he’s very well more involved in the running of the way we do things.

“We go through different processes where we get to the point where we understand what the players are seeing as well from their peers and Garry is someone that featured very strongly among his peers. 

“Then it’s down to the selections that we make. It’s about the different dynamics that are there. He’s such a key talker in the group as it is anyway. He’s very strong on both sides of the ball, attack and defence, his game understanding is good and I think he’ll hopefully do a good job for us.”

Ringrose hasn’t given much cause to hope as opposed to expect top class performances through the years, but running as captain will give him a different working rhythm. He’ll make big game management calls by pointing to the posts, or pointing to the flag and he’ll be the man working the ear of referee Andrew Brace.

Gently attempting to coach and cajole the official like any decent captain should.

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ross-byrne-reacts-after-kicking-a-penalty-to-take-the-lead Different times: Ross Byrne roars along with the crowd after kicking Leinster's winner in 2019. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Every call could prove crucial. While bookmakers have Leinster as 11-point favourites this evening, under Dan McFarland, Ulster have developed a handy knack of digging their claws in situations long after you might expect them to have fallen away.

Last year’s Champions Cup quarter-final is a match at the forefront of memories in either province this week. A gripping 21-18 knockout clash that forced Leinster to grit their teeth to grind out a win – with a little help from a moment Jacob Stockdale would rather we all forget.

And yet, Leinster’s willingness to rotate means that Ringrose is one of just six players who started that tight win and today’s Pro14 final. With Iain Henderson matching James Ryan’s recovery to make a shock return, Ulster have seven of the same starters for this trip to the Aviva Stadium.

jacob-stockdale-celebrates-ian-madigan-kicking-the-winning-penalty-with-the-last-kick-of-the-game Jacob Stockdale, who reverts to the wing for today's clash, celebrates Ian Madigan's late winner in Edinburgh. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

It’s a tall order to follow up last weekend’s dramatic win on the road with facing the best team in Europe on their own patch. But Dan McFarland’s men are acutely aware of the rare opportunity that sits before them: a chance to end the 14-year wait for a trophy, to end Leinster’s winning streak and further underline their remarkable rise over two seasons.

Before the restart, they might well have considered how they might spend this weekend building towards their own Champions Cup quarter-final in Toulouse.

Today, however, they’ll throw everything at Leinster in the echo chamber on Lansdowne Road and see how they respond.

Leinster:

15. Jordan Larmour
14. Hugo Keenan
13. Garry Ringrose (Captain)
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Cian Healy
2. Ronan Kelleher
3. Andrew Porter
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Caelan Doris
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan

Replacements

16. James Tracy
17. Ed Byrne
18. Michael Bent
19. Scott Fardy
20. Will Connors
21. Luke McGrath
22. Johnny Sexton
23. Rory O’Loughlin

Ulster:

15. Michael Lowry
14. Rob Lyttle
13. James Hume
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10 Billy Burns
9. Alby Mathewson

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rob Herring
3. Tom O’Toole
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Iain Henderson (captain)
6. Matthew Rea
7. Sean Reidy
8. Marcell Coetzee

Replacements:
16.John Andrew
17. Jack McGrath
18. Marty Moore
19. Sam Carter
20. Jordi Murphy
21. John Cooney
22. Ian Madigan
23. Nick Timoney

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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