Ross has a frontrow view of Ireland’s propping future

The Leinster man thinks the outlook for tightheads here is not too bad

 Mike Ross: will be needed for Ireland’s testing Autumn schedule. Photograph:   David Maher/Sportsfile

Mike Ross: will be needed for Ireland’s testing Autumn schedule. Photograph: David Maher/Sportsfile


The swagger of Irish loosehead props has provided an early spring in this season’s step. Dave Kilcoyne was left out of Joe Schmidt’s 34 man Ireland squad yesterday with Jack McGrath getting a well deserved promotion alongside Cian Healy and Tom Court.

Kilcoyne, 25 in December, is by no means a spent force but seems to have a more pressing issue fending off the growing presence of James Cronin down Munster way.

The tighthead conundrum is not so easily solved.

Before Mike Ross there was John Hayes, for what seemed an eternity, and before the Bull there was Peter Clohessy and before The Claw there was amateurism.

Ross believes he can shake off a hamstring strain, possibly even for Saturday’s visit of Connacht to the RDS, although that seems an unnecessary risk, and anchor the scrum for what is looking increasingly like the most daunting November Test window in aeons.

For proof go to YouTube and see how many strides the Wallabies have made since the Lions series. Granted, they conceded 41 points against the unrelenting All Blacks last Saturday. But they scored 33 of their own.

Munster’s Stephen Archer, while undoubtedly improved, and Ulster’s Declan Fitzgerald, while undoubtedly a decent scrummager albeit injury prone, simply do not inspire confidence for the immediate road ahead.

And it’s too soon to be beating the Marty Moore drum.

At least the conversation has started. Some day in the not too distant future John Afoa and eventually BJ Botha will leave this island and be replaced by homegrown or at least assimilated number threes.

“The problem with tightheads is it generally takes props a bit less time to mature and come through there,” said Ross, sitting in the relaxed environs of the Dylan Hotel yesterday, where he was promoting the computer game Battlefield 4 .

We are talking about depth of propping options, or the potential for it, not that it will ever be comparable to New Zealand or South Africa or France or Argentina.

At least a plan is in place, now the IRFU have shelved the search for a scrum overseer, instead employing former players like of Marcus Horan and John Fogarty to give binding tutorials.

“We got two good young lads in Leinster in Marty Moore and Tadhg Furlong, ” says Ross.

We’ve seen Moore of late but how’s Furlong, the big Wexford bruiser, coming along since graduating from the underage bracket?

“He’s plugging away, just been unlucky with injury. He got a kidney laceration playing for Clontarf and that kept him out for three months then appendicitis.

“They are 21, 22 and Benty (Michael Bent) is 27 so there is a good mix.”

Ross, surely, will end up mentoring young props and seems to have the patience and intellect to take up a role not seen since Roly Meates was bending young fellas on their ear in his dental waiting room in Dublin 4.

There is certainly a similar humility in evidence.

The conversation moves to bajada, which is Spanish for descent or lowering down, and the new scrum engagement process has seen it return to the game.

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“They gave it to the Aussies and New Zealand at scrum time. The bajada is when they all work through the hooker, so he is like the point of an arrow head. They all sink down and squeeze in.

“When the hit was there that went out the window because they couldn’t settle and do it but now that the hit is gone it is back for them. Watch them.”

It gets even tougher for the likes of Mike Ross, the tightheads of this world now.

“When they took away the hit they took a lot of the tighthead’s armoury away.

“Often you’d hit the loosehead down and chase through. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t do it.

“Someone like Cian Healy is an absolute nightmare under the new rules as he is so bloody strong if he is in a good position he is really hard to deal with.

“Before, my momentum might have been able to knock Cian down but he can come back up from ridiculous positions.

“Watch him, sometimes in training I’m thinking, ‘I got him now, he’s screwed!’ and he’ll do something ridiculous and get back in there.”

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