Mike Ross went through a gruelling ‘refresher week’ last week in Ireland camp
Mike Ross went through a gruelling ‘refresher week’ last week in Ireland camp

Mike Ross went through a gruelling ‘refresher week’ last week in Ireland camp

LAST WEEKEND’S IRELAND team was a strange one. Mike Ross was missing.

After starting all 20 of Joe Schmidt’s 20 games as Ireland head coach since taking charge in 2013, Ross finally handed over the number three shirt to somebody else for the defeat to Wales in Dublin.

Ross warming up at Ireland training earlier today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Nathan White got his starting chance and the game in the Aviva Stadium was an odd experience for a man who remains pivotal to Schmidt’s World Cup plans.

“I actually went along to the Welsh game and it was a bit lost, I had no idea where to go,” says Ross. “My young fella was with me and my wife just said ‘Off you go’. He knew better where to go than I did!”

Having started against Wales early last month and then again versus the Scots in Dublin, Schmidt and his coaching team decided that Ross would be better served by taking a ‘refresher week’ than preparing to play against Wales last weekend.

White and Tadhg Furlong occupied the tighthead slots in the XV and on the bench, while Ross took advantage of the chance to top up his strength and conditioning levels alongside the likes of Devin Toner and Jared Payne.

“I played the first two games, so I don’t think anybody was intended to play all four of the warm-ups. You get a bit of extra time in the gym (in a refresher week), so you’ve got four weights sessions as opposed to two and get a bit of extra physical conditioning after the sessions.

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Ross scrummages opposite Tadhg Furlong at Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“The refresher part comes from the fact that you’re not taking contact. Contact’s really what knocks it out of you, not the actual physical fitness. It’s actually getting nailed in contact or scrummaging or the rest of it.”

Ross is back where he belongs for this weekend, packing down at tighthead for Ireland against England’s Joe Marler. The 35-year-old expects a typically robust set-piece contest against Graham Rowntree’s pack, particularly after they were beaten in that area by France last time out.

Of most interest in terms of Ireland’s scrum is the fact that 22-year-old Furlong, a tighthead, will provide the loosehead cover for starter Jack McGrath from the bench. This may be the test run for the World Cup, should Cian Healy not be thrust into action for the Pool D opener against Canada.

“We’ve been working with Tadhg this week and it’s a bit of an adjustment,” says Ross of Furlong flipping over. “I would have always compared it to trying to write with your left hand (when you’re right-handed).

“He’s certainly strong enough to do a competent job there. You need to be more experienced before you can dominate guys there, but I’d be quite confident in his ability to do a good job for us.”

Furlong made his debut at tighthead last weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Last week, Schmidt stated that it would be a big ask for his more mature props to double up in the manner he is asking Furlong to, a sentiment that Ross goes along with.

“I suppose when you have 15 years behind you of playing one side, it can be quite hard to adjust the physical things that you do for every scrum as a tighthead,” says Ross. “The fact that Tadhg doesn’t have that long experienced should make it easier, he doesn’t have things as ingrained into him as I would.”

Ross recalls playing on the loosehead side for an Ireland team at the 2007 Churchill Cup – a side that also included Johnny Sexton, Darren Cave and Keith Earls.

Ross switched over for 60 minutes against the Māori All Blacks after an injury to former Connacht man Ray Hogan, and points out that “those were the days of the hit and chase,” making the conversion even more difficult.

Ireland’s tighthead says an outing for Furlong at loosehead in Twickenham would be “a baptism of fire,” but feels the Wexford native’s experience in the three shirt will stand to him.

“Definitely, he’ll be very conscious. He’ll keep his hips square and make sure he doesn’t kick out, because that will give an opportunity for a tighthead to get inside him.”

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