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.