Brian O’Driscoll is excited. His body may hurt a little less than his playing days, but his rugby mind stays as active as ever and he is keeping a close eye on the progress of two young Ireland and Leinster centres.
Watching Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose for Leinster strikes a nostalgic chord with O’Driscoll, who knows a thing or two about the arts of rugby’s midfield having played 133 times for Ireland, and when he starts waxing lyrical about their potential then you take notice.
Leinster’s 16-8 win at Connacht on January 4, 2014, was no landmark match in the big scheme of things — Gordon D’Arcy’s match-winning try wasn’t especially unique — but it was the first time when the present and great Ireland partnership met the future in then Connacht No. 13 Henshaw.
D’Arcy and O’Driscoll were coming to the end of their rugby careers but there was something about Henshaw that stayed with the Leinster and British & Irish Lions legend. O’Driscoll never played competitively against Ringrose, but similarly, his first encounter with the future Ireland centre left a lasting impression.
“Knowing how young they are, they can forge a long-lasting centre partnership”
Brian O’Driscoll on Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose
“With Garry, the first time I saw him I thought he had huge promise,” BT Sport pundit O’Driscoll tells ESPN. “He was with the Ireland U20s and they were training against the national team about three years ago. You could tell immediately he was pretty special.
“He was a lot skinnier then, he was pretty slight but his running angles were exceptional. He had a nice passing game and clearly had something different to his peers.
“Robbie grew on me, the more I saw of him. He was young when he first played for Connacht as an 18 or 19-year-old but what immediately stood out was in the first game I played against him, I tried to see if he had an edge and he certainly wasn’t taking any backward steps.
“He wasn’t going to be bullied around the place. They’re going to complement one another beautifully and they’re pretty unique.”
D’Arcy and O’Driscoll played a record 56 matches alongside each other in Ireland’s midfield. Leinster teammates Ringrose and Henshaw are yet to play together for Ireland — the closest they came was when Ringrose replaced Henshaw in the early stages of their match against New Zealand in Dublin.
The true acid test of any partnership is at international level but O’Driscoll believes the two of them can take their form with Leinster to the next stage with Ireland.
Brian O’Driscoll and Robbie Henshaw at an Ireland training session in 2013 Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
“There’s huge potential there. I am very excited about watching them develop,” O’Driscoll said. “The two of them are playing provincially together for the first time and you’re looking at an opportunity of them playing in the national jersey as well.
“Knowing how young they are, they can forge a long-lasting centre partnership. They complement each other beautifully.
“Robbie Henshaw is the perfect 12 for the modern game — he’s big, physical but very skilful. And Garry Ringrose is a good tackler and elusive with bundles of pace and a great offloading game. They complement one another with Johnny Sexton at 10 and Joey Carbery. They have an embarrassing of riches there.”
The two link up again in Saturday’s Champions Cup clash between Leinster and Northampton at the RDS. Ringrose and Henshaw tormented the Saints last Friday in a performance which reminded O’Driscoll of the great Leinster team that won three European titles in four years from 2009 to 2012.
He credits Stuart Lancaster with bringing an increased intensity to their defence to the extent that they now use it as an “attacking weapon” with Ringrose and Henshaw instrumental to that new approach.
O’Driscoll feels “normal service has been resumed” at his former province complete with a young all-Ireland partnership in the centres and there is a growing excitement that Leinster are on the way back to greatness.
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