Andrew Porter ready to lay down a marker at Thomond Park

With Tadhg Furlong injured Ireland have leaned heavily on his fellow Leinster prop

Leinster’s Andrew Porter believes the rivalry with Munster is a strong as ever. Photograph: Inpho

Leinster’s Andrew Porter believes the rivalry with Munster is a strong as ever. Photograph: Inpho

 

Andrew Porter’s durability was as prized a characteristic last autumn as his undoubted talent. In the absence of the injured Tadhg Furlong Ireland leaned heavily on Porter to shoulder a sizeable workload.

He started both rescheduled Six Nations matches in October against Italy (63 minutes) and France (69) and played in all four of the Autumn Nations Cup matches against Wales (65), England (80), Georgia (40) and Scotland (75).

His game minutes at Leinster have been more modest, four appearances, two off the bench, no doubt grateful for Michael Bent’s sterling efforts; the New Zealand born, Irish international has been in the run-on Leinster team in nine of his 11 matches this season including Pro14 and Heineken Champions Cup matches and has been consistently good.

Porter though should start Saturday’s rearranged game against Munster at Thomond Park, a contest in which neither head coach is hamstrung by the national player management program. Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad for the 2021 Six Nations Championship will be announced on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning next week.

A game of this nature is timely in helping the Ireland coach to ascertain whether the balance lies between current form and previous service in clarifying a pecking order. Tadhg Furlong’s woes look likely to end shortly as he’s pencilled in to return in the next weeks or so but Porter will be the starting tighthead prop for the opening Six Nations game against Wales barring injury.

He explained: “You feel for Tadhg in terms of how long he’s been injured, no one wants to be sitting on the sideline like that. He’s a good friend of mine. You need to be exposed to those big game minutes, especially in the frontrow positions.

“I was fortunate to get a few minutes under my belt in the international window and with Leinster this season, so those minutes have been very valuable to me. Not every game is going to be perfect, you could have a bad game but that’s how you learn.”

Porter is correct when he asserts that no player can look past the game at the weekend or be selfish in outlook. His primary concern is to help Leinster to a win that would nudge them closer in their pursuit of Ulster in the Conference A table.

There may be more of an edge to this game as both teams are going well in the Pro14 and unbeaten in Europe. Porter spoke about it being “a huge game” with “a lot on the line.” It is and there is but interestingly he argued that the rivalry hasn’t been diminished by absenteeism and that recent clashes have been just as fiercely fought, pointing to a ‘rumble in the jungle’ in Limerick two years ago.

“I remember watching these games when I was younger, I remember being at the one in Croke Park. That was one of my first memories of the rivalry, that’s where it probably started for me. It’s incredible to still be able to play now given the circumstances, but I don’t think it’s (the ferocity of the games) been diluted; if anything it’s been amped up.”

Porter understands how much emotional energy the supporters invest at a time in the pandemic when life is difficult. The players have spoken in meetings about how they have the capacity to brighten someone’s day.

“We are unbelievably privileged to be able to play. We had a load of messages from supporters and fans saying how much just watching us play has brought a small bit of happiness to this dark time that we are all going through. It’s more than just a game; it’s a distraction from everything else that is going on.”

Porter has also helped in a hands-on, practical way designing a mask for the Irish Cancer Society, which has helped to raise much needed funds. He smiled: “I doodle a lot in my spare time. I came up with the idea and put it forward to the Irish Cancer Society. I wouldn’t describe myself as an artist but it’s been great to make them for a good cause.”

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