Mike Ross determined no sweet chariot will roll over Irish front row this time

“It was different times, different personnel and different rules . . . that situation simply wouldn’t happen now”

Mike Ross: “We were all pretty embarrassed after that. I mean probably a personal low.”

Mike Ross: “We were all pretty embarrassed after that. I mean probably a personal low.”


The first mild profanity from Mike Ross arrives in a wheeze of expelled air.

“Jesus, you wouldn’t want to think about that, to be honest with you,” he says.

Yeah. Right. England two years ago at Twickenham. Meltdown. Today the gory details of that 30-9 scoreline greet him as he sits. Ireland’s last outing in Twickenham is a pointy stick to poke the Irish tighthead prop in the eye.

Ross needs no reminding about the scrum capitulation and the sweet chariot grinding Ireland to dust in the final match of that year’s Six Nations. Nor does he see any need to revisit queasy images.

But for now it is like a child being fed spoons of medicine, forced and cajoled into swallowing the unpalatable. England won a penalty from the first scrum in the second minute. There was an injury to Ross’s neck that forced him off the pitch. Then the humiliation of a second-half penalty try against Ireland neatly closed the day. In scrum terms it was a calamity.

“There’s nothing to be gained from that,” says Ross. “It was different times, different personnel and different rules. I mean two years ago you had a loosehead trying to play tighthead (Tom Court). That situation simply wouldn’t happen now.

“The first scrum went down and I got crunched in between (Alex) Corbisiero’s head and (Dylan) Hartley’s head. My entire left locked solid and I could hardly turn my neck. I just kept getting worse throughout the game so eventually I had to come off. It’s not something that has happened me before. Tom had been going pretty well at tighthead so . . .

“You never want to come off, but at the same time I thought, well, it’s better to have someone who is fully fit on than someone who’s carrying an injury around the place. We were all pretty embarrassed after that. I mean probably a personal low.”

There is a paradigm shift, not just because Joe Schmidt has forced it but because the front row has viable back up, all currently coming from Leinster, in Jack McGrath, Martin Moore and Seán Cronin.

How that feeds through to Ireland is that Ross and Cian Healy no longer have to play full matches for their club.

A former Harlequins academy player Ross also understands the England front row’s foibles and strengths, and that the volatile Hartley’s discipline cools considerably in the white shirt. Despite outsized transgressions elsewhere, he has never been carded in the Six Nations Championship.

Pushing hard
“Leinster has been an interesting situation because we have a good front row coming through,” says Ross.

“Myself and Church (Healy) don’t have to play 80 minutes any more. Marty’s been pushing me hard and Jack’s been pushing Cian hard, so it’s a good situation to be in. At the same time you know you have to be on form otherwise you are going to lose your spot.”

Last time in Twickenham it was Corbisiero, Hartley and Dan Cole that formed the front row. Cole is out and Corbisiero is unavailable to England, illustrating the logic of Ross’s scepticism in revisiting a game of two years ago.

But in the aggression side of the game England’s reputation rarely gives at home. Joe Marler, Dave Wilson, Hartley, whoever, promises some pain.

“They are big aggressive boys. I know Joe Marler from Harlequins. He was in the academy when I was there and he was always burning the ear of us like a senior front row for tips and advice,” says Ross. “Eventually it worked too well – he turfed the lad that was there, but he was a strong lad. There will probably be Davy Wilson. Big chest on him . . .

More quality
“Hartley, maybe with Northampton he has to lead from the front, whereas with England he’s got more quality around him than he would with his club side so he’s not as worried about that.”

Give Ross a second and he will say it’s not England they are looking at. It’s not about who comes in for Cole. It’s not even about Twickenham. It’s about that first line of contact with himself, Rory Best and Cian Healy. It’s also about McGrath, Cronin and Moore.

“As I said, different time, different rules, different personnel,” he repeats. “So I would like to think we don’t have to go through all of that again.”