"Unfortunately, because of his versatility, Garry is probably going to end up with 23 on his back"
"You can see him wearing No. 23."
Saturday's 19-10 Ireland win over Wales all but confirmed Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw as midfield starters for the World Cup opener against Scotland. Garry Ringrose featured, too, and showed his defensive nous whilst filling in for the injured Keith Earls on the left wing.
A week before that, Ringrose was covering outhalf, centre and wing on the Irish bench as they won in Cardiff to get their warm-up campaign back on track. A top-class outside centre by his own right, it may well be Ringrose's versatility that will see him go from regular starter to bench cover [or 'finisher'] in Japan.
Following Ireland's victory at the weekend, Joe Schmidt spoke of the relationship Henshaw and Aki - former Connacht teammates - have together.
"Those two know each other inside-out. They are good friends, they are good players together.
"I thought Robbie's first carry, when he gets that ball in behind the line, Bundee knows exactly where to be, and punches onto that ball really well. So instead of us just having a ruck on the edge of our 22, suddenly we're going forward. Defensively they got the space as well... I do think that our midfield defence with those two was really strong as well."
Go forward ball and strong defence. If Schmidt's mind was not made up before Aki and Henshaw started against Wales, it was after full-time.
On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby [from 55:30 below] the Irish midfield, and how to get the best out of Ringrose, was discussed by Barry Murphy, Andrew Trimble, James Lowe and Jerry Flannery.
In terms of midfield partnerships since the 2015 World Cup, Joe Schmidt has gone with 15 different combinations.
Aki and Ringrose (pictured above) have made the most starts together but, according to Opta, Aki and Henshaw have had the better returns:
- Aki & Ringrose - 8 starts, 1247 minutes, 186 carries, 11 clean breaks, 3 tries, 5 try assists, gainline success 44%
- Henshaw & Ringrose - 6 starts, 927 minutes, 139 carries, 4 clean breaks, 1 try, 0 try assists, gainline success 51%
- Aki & Henshaw - 6 starts, 924 minutes, 123 carries, 12 clean breaks, 3 tries, 1 try assist, gainline success 50%
- Aki & Farrell - 5 starts, 710 minutes, 95 carries, 2 clean breaks, 1 try, 0 assists, 50% gainline success
While Aki and Ringrose have combined for eight tries (scored or assisted) in eight starts, the Connacht centre provides greater gainline success and go-forward ball when paired with Henshaw. On Aki and Henhaw's outing against Wales, Andrew Trimble commented:
"Bundee Aki was unbelievable. Just winning collisions, getting gainlines. He was class.
"Typically, he may have been considered third or fourth choice centre for Ireland but he's played so much rugby for them over the past couple of years, and his performances at the weekend and over in Wales, he's potentially the first-choice centre. Henshaw was class as well.
"So Ringrose, maybe now because of his utility skills... it's a shame because you can play another position that you're not considered first-choice in your preferred condition. But Bundee and Robbie look a serious combination."
"Unfortunately," said Lowe, "Garry, because of his versatility, is probably going to end up with 23 on his back for most of the games, because of where he can go and where he can slot in."
Lowe says Ringrose is 'ridiculously good' on defence and is a dream player to operate beside in the backline. "Playing inside him is awesome because I sometimes think, 'If I screw up here, my boy has got me!' And I just follow him wherever he goes... he is so good to play inside."
Garry Ringrose is the Ferrari of Ireland's midfield options but he may have to settle for that finisher role for that first week or two in Japan.
Schmidt is going with his reliable big-hitters for the opener against Scotland while Ringrose and Farrell, who had 58% gainline success in their one start together (against Italy), will be primed for Russia and Samoa.
WATCH THAT HOUSE OF RUGBY EPISODE HERE:
The latest episodes sees Leinster star James Lowe join Barry Murphy, Andrew Trimble and Jerry Flannery to discuss his time in Ireland, what it is like to play with Garry Ringrose and how he reckons we will fare at the World Cup.