Indispensable Ross faces a stern test at tighthead
INTERVIEW:Few have carried a heavier load over recent years than Mike Ross, so few would appreciate some back-up more than the Leinster tighthead. The flip side, of course, is that few are under as much threat from the arrival of Michael Bent as Ross.
It’s been a strange journey for Ross, from unwanted to indispensable, having been overlooked as recently as the autumn of 2009 when Tony Buckley (v South Africa), John Hayes (v Samoa), Tom Court (v New Zealand) and Buckley again (v Argentina) were all chosen ahead of Ross at tight-head.
But since making his competitive debut in the Six Nations opener two seasons ago against Italy, Ross has played in 20 of Ireland’s past 22 Tests, the only exceptions being the opening World Cup warm-up game away to Scotland and the first of the summer Tests against the All Blacks. And he started in all but one of those 20 Tests.
The intensity of Ireland’s scrummaging sessions will intensify this week, but Bent comes with a decent reputation as a scrummager as well as a good carrier, albeit mostly at New Zealand NPC level.
“If he is doing well against the top two or three looseheads in Ireland, you have to think he will be well able for the international stage,” said Ross of his new rival yesterday.
“There are other Irish players who have played for Ireland without playing for an Irish club. You look at Kevin Maggs who was playing for Bristol and Geordan Murphy spent most of his time at Leicester.
“The fact is he is probably one of the guys out there who is match fit at the moment and has a good season at Taranaki. I think he has every right to be here and if he plays well nobody will be saying a word about him.”
The forthcoming Tests are given added intrigue by the impending draw for the 2015 World Cup and Ireland’s need to retain a top-eight ranking and with it a second-tier seeding.
“You certainly don’t want to end up in a group with two other heavyweights,” said Ross. “It makes it that much tougher to qualify for a quarter-final. It is very important that we do well in this series, especially against Argentina who are just a couple of points ahead of us. We don’t want to slip down, we want to do well.
“We have a home record at the Aviva to look at as well. It hasn’t been where it’s needed to be in the last couple of seasons. It’s a big challenge for us to step up to improve that,” added Ross.