Ireland’s scrum has been challenged by Australia and Italy in recent weeks and gained the upper hand on both occasions. Another examination awaits them this weekend in Wellington where Wales are hoping to take the set piece spoils.
The Irish scrum is well and truly battle-hardened after last weekend’s Pool C win over Italy, which marked another satisfying night’s work for front rowers Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross.
For World Cup newcomers Healy and Ross, they have taken to this stage with admirable poise. It can be easy to forget that Healy is only just turning 24 years of age and that his Leinster colleague Ross is still in his first full year of international rugby.
The Corkman has made rapid progress since making his Six Nations debut against Italy last February, winning 14 caps to date and becoming a highly valued member of the Irish pack.
Ross’ route to Test rugby was not as direct as some. His colleagues from UCC’s European Students Cup title win back in 1999 – Peter Stringer, Jerry Flannery and Mick O’Driscoll – were all capped by Ireland before him.
The former Fermoy underage player moved to Cork Constitution and won the All-Ireland Cup and a single Munster cap in 2006 before making the move to England.
He had a successful stint at Harlequins under the tutelage of Dean Richards, whom he says he owes his professional career to.
His impressive club form led to his first two Ireland caps on the 2009 summer tour to Canada and the USA, and two months later he took up a contract with Leinster.
With his diligence and persistence paying off, Ross’ stock has since risen further on the back of a Heineken Cup title with Leinster and five starts in this year’s Six Nations Championship.
He has been virtually ever-present during the World Cup so far, save for a second half appearance as a replacement in the bonus point victory over Russia.
In an interview with RTÉ Sport, he commented: “It’s been really good. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my World Cup experience. There’s a great squad ethos going at the moment, we’re enjoying each other’s company and you’re seeing that out on the pitch.”
As a tighthead, Ross is primarly judged off his scrummaging displays. He has been dubbed a ‘scrum nerd’ by Greg Feek such is his dedication to the set piece and the hard work he puts in on the training pitch and in the area of analysis.
Asked about his own influence on Ireland’s solid scrummaging in New Zealand, the 31-year-old said: “The scrum has gone well. It’s not just one person, it’s the whole pack. I’m pleased to contribute my own power towards that.
“It’s something I take personal pride in it. I think it’s an integral part of our game as a prop, it’s an essential thing to be able to do.
“I’m just happy with the way things are going and hopefully we’ll keep improving. I enjoy it. It’s confrontation in its rawest form.
“There’s satisfaction to be garnered when you’ve done the work, when you’ve put in the hours and you’re getting your rewards whether that’s getting that perfect right shoulder or squeezing a penalty out of the opposition.”
Ross’ direct opponent on Saturday will be Gethin Jenkins, the Cardiff Blues prop who has five Lions Test caps to his name.
The two have never taken each other on at Test level before, with the Irish tighthead stating: “It’s a good challenge. I’ve played against Gethin a few times before when I was over in England and when he’s been with Cardiff. He’s a tough competitor, he didn’t get into the Lions Test side for no reason.
“It’ll be a tough day at the office but these are the things we play for, to test ourselves against the best.”
Follow the Ireland team in New Zealand on www.twitter.com/irfurugby.