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Sunday 11 December 2016

Brent Pope: Ringrose makes a timely impact for blues

27 December 2015; Garry Ringrose, Leinster. Guinness PRO12, Round 10, Munster v Leinster. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 December 2015; Garry Ringrose, Leinster. Guinness PRO12, Round 10, Munster v Leinster. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

For the past month or so I have been pleading to the Leinster management staff to give promising ex-Blackrock schools star Garry Ringrose a chance to show what he can do at the higher level of the game.

Last weekend in Limerick, Ringrose proved that old saying, "if you're good enough you're old enough".

And even Brian O Driscoll admitted after the game on social media that Ringrose is destined for much higher honours, possibly sooner rather than later looking at Ireland's growing injury crisis.

Ringrose reminds me of a young Conrad Smith, not as blocky in the lower body as O Driscoll, but like Smith a player that seems to glide past opposition players with ease and a player that seems to create space and have time on the ball.

With Leinster seemingly losing players by the week, and especially after the recent departure of both Ben Te'o and Ian Madigan to pastures new, Ringrose's performances will be some consolation for Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

Cullen must now make signing an experienced, dynamic inside centre his main priority for 2016. Once again, Leinster defence coach Kurt McQuilkan can take huge kudos for Leinster's clinical and disciplined victory in Thomond Park.

Dominated

At times, when Munster dominated both field position and possession, Leinster's defence looked well organised, and when the likes of Munster's Simon Zebo, C J Stander and Keith Earls made significant line breaks, Leinster's defence scrambled well.

In fact, Leinster's defence has been pretty well organised all year, despite their poor record in Europe. In Limerick, Leinster managed to show plenty of promise in attack as well, helped of course by lesser quality opposition and the return of the dynamic Sean O'Brien, whose charges will ball in hand helped Leinster over the all-important gain line.

In many ways it was an entertaining game played in the right vein, but still lacking the intensity and consientency of the top European sides.

The two sides are trying to find their level in the game - with the visitors far more comfortable and further down the road it seems than Munster.

When pressure came on Leinster No 8 Jamie Heaslip this week, he responded with a fantastic game. Once relieved of the duty of having to make the hard yards by O'Brien, and after a mixed season for both province and country, Heaslip's fitness, work over the ball on the ground and his defensive game proved that his heir apparent C J Stander, although impressive with ball in hand for Munster, is still a ways behind Heaslip for the green jersey.

Heaslip needs to continue the same consistency into the upcoming Six Nations Championship. Munster have now lost five games on the trot in all competitions, and for the first time this season they have slipped well out of the top four in the Guinness Pro12.

Things won't get any easier for coach Anthony Foley's men this weekend as they face another tricky assignment against Ulster. Munster desperately need to arrest the slide, but won't be helped by the absence of key players like Keith Earls and Conor Murray.

Munster had plenty of ball last Sunday but once again they lacked a decent out-half that could direct them or even read the game.

The 10 shirt has become a real position of anxiety for Foley, especially with the exploits of JJ Harahan in England. Foley is under intense pressure from a fairly demanding support base that don't like to lose. The booing of some of his side over the past few weeks tells the story of a province that demands more.

Cullen, on the other hand, must now be confident that his buoyant team can take another step forward with a win over injury-stricken Connacht this evening, despite having to cope with a five-day turnaround.

Pat Lam's side is one of the surprises of the year to date but he is struggling to cobble a team together. Each week another injury threatens to derail their season completely, just when they need to keep the rudder straight.

Based on the number of injuries and on current form, Leinster should be able to win this derby and set out the stall for a good 2016 season, despite the disappointment of nothing but pride to play for in Europe.

It is a learning curve for coach and team and they are on the right track. Leinster to win by at least 10.

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