One of the success stories of Ireland’s Championship campaign, prop Mike Ross is looking forward to putting it up to Grand Slam hopefuls England at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday.
“England will obviously be our biggest challenge so far this year,” admitted Mike Ross, who is part of an ever-improving Irish front row alongside Rory Best and Cian Healy.
“The English have been really good throughout the Championship and even when the pressure was on them on Sunday, they had enough self belief to pull through against Scotland. I think that says a lot about them.
“Their pack has probably been the outstanding one of the Championship, with the lineout and scrum especially going well.”
Ross played 84 times for Harlequins between 2006 and 2009 and has scrummaged against English loosehead Alex Corbisiero before, with the pair likely to go head-to-head again this weekend.
“Even though they have lost Andrew Sheridan, they have enough quality players like Corbisiero to bring in so as not to lose any momentum,” he added.
“No matter what has happened in the last four games for us, we need to bring our very best game next Saturday.”
With the dust still settling on Ireland’s disappointing defeat in Cardiff, Ross felt the forwards took ‘another positive step forward’ in terms of their set piece work.
The Irish pack won their three scrums and 15 lineouts during a fast-paced 80 minutes at the Millennium Stadium.
“I thought as a pack we went well. We talked about upping our concentration levels and the lineouts went really well,” said the Leinster front rower.
“To come away with such a high return on our own ball and also nick one off what was a good Wales unit was great and is a testament to how much hard work Gert (Smal), Paul (O’Connell) and the rest of the boys put in to get that right.
“From my own perspective in the set piece, there were only a few scrums in the whole 80 minutes and I don’t think I have ever played in a game with so few of them.
“I think all three came from us holding them up in the tackle and forcing the turnover, something that Les (Kiss) has had us working hard on.”
Ireland will get their video review done on the Wales game before swiftly switching their focus to the challenge of beating RBS 6 Nations leaders England.
Declan Kidney’s men do not have a Triple Crown to aim for, but the carrot of a first ever Championship win at the Aviva Stadium is there for them.
Saturday’s clash is also Ireland’s last competitive game before the Rugby World Cup in September and October, as competition for squad places really heats up.
“We have to be our own harshest critics after the Welsh game and look at what we did do well and what we did not do well,” explained Ross, whose caps haul now stands at six.
“Brian (O’Driscoll) is good in that way and along with the coaches will make us work on those positives, but also address what we can be better at.
“While we were gutted at the result and how that one decision for the Wales try had a big influence on the end scoreline, when we look back we can be both happy that we are putting ourselves in the position to win games, but also disappointed that we did not keep the pressure on them to get that important result.
“I think we can get into a position to make all of these little things fall into place.”
Despite suffering defeats to France and Wales, Ireland can boast a tries for/against record of 8 to 3 which is the second best in the Championship behind England (12/3).
Penalties account for 51 of the 73 points Ireland have conceded in recent weeks, and Ross readily admits that discipline is an area they need to tighten up in.
“In the other games this year, we may have scored more tries, but maybe we were not as tight in our discipline.
“That was better at the weekend against Wales and so was the set piece, along with the guys still being able to create chances to score.
“We just need to couple those aspects up with the other parts that we have done well in over the Championship. We need to keep faith in what we are doing and that eventually all of those little jigsaw pieces that are in our control can fall into place.
“We have confidence in each other that we can produce that big all-round performance that is in us.”