Six Nations 2023: Andrew Porter ready to face Cardiff ‘cauldron’ with confidence

Ireland prop admits that he felt a little intimidated at the Principality Stadium earlier in his career

Andrew Porter during the Ireland training camp in Faro, Portugal on Wednesday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

There was a time when Andrew Porter admits he could become a little intimidated by the kind of occasion and atmosphere which Ireland will encounter at the Principality Stadium in Saturday’s Six Nations opener.

But he’s a relatively experienced 27-year-old prop now, who is on course to reach 50 caps (along with the 26-year-old James Ryan) in the round two game at home to France on Saturday week, and has learned to relish a ground which he describes as “a real cauldron”.

“I remember I used to use it real negatively. I used to go inside myself and I’d be getting sick before games with the nerves, and then with the crowd it would be doubling that kind of anxiety,” he admitted after the squad’s session in Quinta do Lago on Wednesday.

“When you get a few more games under your belt you learn how to deal with that. It’s a huge battle playing away from home, but something you really relish now, and use that energy to your advantage. You’re blocking out, focusing on what you’re doing around the park.

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“It’s tough when you’re in a stadium like the Principality to hear yourself think, but you have to do your best in terms of slowing your thought process down, and not letting the occasion get to you.

Working with performance coach Gary Keegan has also been invaluable.

“That’s something I’ve really worked on, and the coaches and sports psychologist Gary Keegan has done really well with some guys who are breaking into the team, and might not be used to those big games and big stadiums.”

Porter also expects the atmosphere at the Principality Stadium to be ramped up by it being Warren Gatland’s first game in his second coming as the Welsh head coach.

“It’s the first game back with Gats at the wheel, and they’ve gone with a real experienced selection of players. I remember back to 2018, and when we did the Grand Slam that year, and when we went away to France, that’s one of the most hostile places you can go, and we came away with a win there. And in recent times against New Zealand, down there, the home of rugby, why is it any different playing away from home?

“I think we’re more than capable of doing it both home and away.”

Porter was still in his tighthead days when starting in the loss to Wales two years ago, and was a replacement when Wales sealed the Grand Slam with a one-sided 25-7 victory in 2019.

“It’s hard to really pinpoint what it was that year, things didn’t really click for us. It’s obviously a tough place to go, in terms of going to Cardiff, and the atmosphere that will be there. But what the coaches have done really well is prepare us.

“Some lads haven’t played there before, and Faz and the other coaches, and players, have been letting the younger lads know what to expect going over to Cardiff.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times