Ross knows Leinster can't afford to lose this one
Let’s start at the end. Mike Ross is politely trying to employ the right words to fend off an inquiry about his contract negotiations with the IRFU, looking to dampen recent speculation that he is being offered a less lucrative deal.
His face fleetingly betrays a mild sense of discomfort as he ponders out loud: “We’re having a chat; contracts are contracts. I am happy where I am. Obviously it’s something that I don’t like to talk about too much – I like to keep it private. I am chatting with the union and I think we will be going down the right track.”
It’s probably more perplexed than he felt in Stade Marcel Michelin last Sunday. Ross is the keystone of the Leinster scrum. He is an unashamed devotee, too, who forensically analyses the opposition.
Bound in a media scrum beside Leinster’s training facility at UCD, Ross is invited to hold forth on the ebb and flow of those set-piece collisions in Clermont. “We have worked hard on the scrum this year but we are not going to start thinking we have made it. I just know from experience that every match is different. They gave us the ‘hurry-up’ a couple of times in Bordeaux last year,” he says.
“We managed to turn it round a little bit last Sunday but this weekend is going to be another thing; I’m sure they are going to be working hard on it.”
At the weekend he eyeballed Vincent Debarty first and then a young loosehead who has been called into the senior squad in the absence of the injured French international, Thomas Domingo. Ross admits: “I was impressed enough with Raphael Chaume when he came on. He is a young loosehead and he played well against Toulouse; got stuck into Census Johnston a couple of times. He’s a good option. They have Michael Coetzee as well, a South African and a decent scrummager. They have two or three decent frontrows.”
This was an area in which Leinster eventually managed to assert consistent dominance after the interval, begging the question about what they changed physically or mentally in the second half. “I don’t think we did much differently. It was a sticky pitch, so we wanted a closer gap. We got a free-kick given against us in the first scrum because we thought the gap was too big but the referee disagreed. I think as long as we stay straight and keep our head above our hips, simple physics; it’s going to go well for you.”
The nature of last Saturday’s contest can be gleaned in Ross’s answer to how he was feeling physically at present. He smiled: “I just coughed up the rib this morning that Hinsey shook loose. It’s been in a better place but we have a bit of recovery between now and the match so hopefully things will start feeling normal by the time the game comes around.”
He recalls his conversation with his former Leinster team-mate Nathan Hines at the end of the match. “‘Can I have my rib back?’ He is a tough competitor. Once in the second half when I went down on the ball, he just fell over me and unfortunately I caught his knees in a place you don’t really want to be caught. We were having a chat about that.
“We can’t afford to lose this one. If we do then we can’t top the group and the chance of getting a best runners-up spot would probably be gone in looking at the other pools. You try not to dwell on the pressure; you look at what you need to do to get the result. If we execute better and tidy up a few issues we had around the set-pieces we’ll be in a much better position to win.”
That would do nicely.