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.