Garry Ringrose raves about four young Leinster stars to watch this season
It was February 2016 when Joe Schmidt brought in a 21-year-old uncapped prospect to train with Ireland's senior stars.
Garry Ringrose was already known to most of the squad when he pitched up at training ahead of the 2016 Six Nations. The Leinster lads had got the word out.
A Schools Cup star for Blackrock and tearing it up at the Leinster Academy, Schmidt wanted to see how Ringrose would handle it against the very best. He wanted to see how they could handle Ringrose, too.
There's Garry Ringrose in training with the Irish squad at Carton House pic.twitter.com/XKGO1TGygU
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) February 3, 2016
Ringrose had to wait until the autumn internationals, later that year, to make his Test debut. He was on the bench when Ireland beat New Zealand at Soldier Field, then played three in a row against Canada, Australia and that rough-house return with the Kiwis.
The summer after, eight caps into his Test career, he was not going easy on Ronan O'Gara when the Munster legend was invited to join Ireland for the United States leg of their three-game tour. O'Gara told us:
"I got taken out by Garry Ringrose on a good hit-line I ran in training... I was defending at 12 [in training] so I'd say they were pretty fearful of me at 12, in the D-line! I didn't have a rashers what was going on.
"Garry Ringrose was coming straight at me. I was really impressed with him. I was the same with Keith Earls at that age. Why these guys stand out is their personality, their attitude or their character - this guy is so humble."
Ringrose is now fully established with Leinster and Ireland. He is a key player for the reigning league champions and a leader amongst the squad.
We caught up with the 26-year-old just ahead of the United Rugby Championship opener and asked for a tip-off on young players at Leinster to keep an eye on, this season and beyond.
He had quite a few names to get through.
Asked for the names of Leinster prospects tearing it up in training, Ringrose lists off four exciting backs, two of which have already played with the senior side.
"Jamie Osborne has been very impressive for us," says Ringrose. "He would have trained with us last year and he's obviously kicked on. He's been incredible.
"Even watching over the summer, playing the [Ireland] 20s, he's grown and is getting better. He's someone I've no doubt that will contribute to Leinster.
"Chris Cosgrave has gone away has gone away with [Ireland] Sevens, and is back. He's been incredibly impressive. Liam Turner, who came on when Chris got injured against Harlequins, pretty early. Liam came on at 13 and slotted in, seamless.
"Rob Russell is another guy that came through. He would have been training with us. Obviously, we put a lot of pride in home-grown players and players that have come up through the system - whether it is school or clubs.
"So to see guys like them really driving the standards and challenging a lot of us in training. It's not just us giving them advice and improving them. It's two ways - fresh faces, fresh opinions, fresh point of view - and they teach the other guys, older than them, too. It's a brilliant dynamic."
As for the addition of four new teams from South Africa, Ringrose acknowledges that it will be tougher again to finish top of the tree. He is keen to stress, though, that Leinster's past league wins have been no cake-walk.
"The teams that are coming in, the quality that's coming in, and the way the schedule has been restructured can only do good.
"Saying 'prestige', that wouldn't be a word that I'd use. Probably just tougher, more competitive, more challenging. That's what myself and the guys in our playing group are facing."
To get over the line, as in past seasons, Leinster will be using 50+ players and relying on these academy prospects. They go into the season with words of ringing endorsement from Ringrose, a man that has tread the path and proved all those that backed him to be correct.