‘I’ve exceeded a few of my own expectations over the last few years’
‘I’ve exceeded a few of my own expectations over the last few years’

‘I’ve exceeded a few of my own expectations over the last few years’

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

THE LAST TIME Ireland played in Chicago, tighthead prop Andrew Porter was in Parma playing for Leinster against Zebre.

“It was a small crowd, lashing rain, a cold day,” recalls the 22-year-old.

“I just remember watching the Chicago game on TV and it was crazy, like, just seeing a few of my mates be a part of it.

“I remember Joey [Carbery] at the time, I would have played a lot of my underage rugby with him so to see him there and after the game, it was obviously such a special occasion for him and for Irish rugby as well.”

Porter starts at tighthead against Italy today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

And the last time Ireland played in Chicago, beating the All Blacks as Carbery made his debut, Porter was a loosehead prop.

His transformation into a superb tighthead in the two years since has been one of the less-lauded success stories in Irish rugby recently.

It’s partly because of Tadhg Furlong’s sheer brilliance at tighthead, but make no mistake – there aren’t many 22-year-old tightheads as good as Porter in the game.

“I’ve kind of exceeded a few of my own expectations over the last few years,” says Porter. “I can’t really say I would have expected to be where I am now in that short space of time, especially moving over from loosehead to the other side of the scrum.

“It has been great working with Feeky [Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek]. He is very knowledgeable, the amount of experience he has had, both playing himself and coaching.

“He has been in Japan when he hasn’t been with us so it’s just his knowledge that’s really invaluable to me. It’s the best thing to have. It’s a top-level coach giving me tips in scrumming and Tadhg as well, it’s not just the coaches. We’re all helping out each other.

“Yeah, Feeky, I kinda owe a lot to him.”

Furlong is in Chicago with Ireland this week but won’t play against Italy today [KO 8pm Irish time, eir Sport], with Finlay Bealham back in the squad as replacement tighthead two years after filling the same role against the All Blacks.

Porter at the Chicago Bulls game against the Denver Nuggets this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think it’s always great to have competition, especially in this environment, it keeps you pushing yourself and to have someone else running beside you keeps you on your toes,” says Porter of Bealham’s return.

“You’re more conscious of what you’re doing in training more and more so you can’t take a step back internally, you can’t take a minute off. You can’t miss a second really because things like that add up.”

Porter has been in superb form for Leinster early this season, making some eye-catching cameos off the bench and his sheer power will make him a threat to the Italians today.

There’s much more to his game than physicality, however, with his handling constantly improving and his breakdown skills standing out too.

Furlong is a certainty for the World Cup squad next year, while Porter is in a fine position to travel, but he appreciates that Bealham, John Ryan and others will be pushing hard too.

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“‘Everyone here wants to be on that plane so I think almost everything is leading up to that point but you can’t really look too far ahead and you have to focus on the job at hand this week.

“If not in the green jersey, you have to be putting your best foot forward in your provincial jersey as well.

“As the saying goes, ‘Big Brother is watching’ so everything you do is being watched.”

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