Having not played for Leinster since their January 3 derby meeting with Ulster, Mike Ross’ preparations for the RBS 6 Nations, which included a 53-minute run-out for Ireland Wolfhounds, were far from ideal.
As expected, Mike Ross delivered the goods against Italy against Saturday, locking down the scrum as Ireland’s regular tighthead prop made his 21st consecutive RBS 6 Nations start since making his debut against Italy in 2011.
Ross had spoken in the build-up of ‘just having a loan of the jersey this week’, given his lack of recent game-time at Leinster and the continued emergence of young pretender Martin Moore at both provincial and national level.
He admitted his form has been ‘a bit mixed’ since November, but he was determined to pay back Joe Schmidt’s faith in him and a rewarding day for the Irish scrum in Rome was certainly a confidence boost for Ross.
“I had a big task on my shoulders against Italy. Joe gave me the responsibility of starting and he didn’t have to do that, so a big performance was required,” he said.
“I think it went well and that’s good for the confidence, but at the same time Joe’s pretty ruthless, and if you don’t deliver then his faith in you will only run so far.”
The match statistics show that Ireland had a 100% scrummaging return at the Stadio Olimpico, winning all seven of their own scrums, and Ross gained an early advantage on his direct opponent Matias Aguero.
The Corkman, who now has 45 caps to his name, used his weight advantage and Test match nous to pressurise Aguero at scrum time, an area of high intensity which is definitely not for the fainthearted.
Ross explained: “There’s a lot of pressure (in the scrum), a hell of a lot of pressure. Paulie (O’Connell) is behind me giving it socks, you’ve got the hooker attacking your left shoulder, you’ve got the loosehead trying to come up under your right shoulder and you just have to sink and absorb that.
“I think it’s been measured before that there’s two tonnes of force across an international front row, so all that’s going through your spine. It’s not a great feeling, but it’s what we’re paid to do!”
Ross and the Irish front row will have to do it all again and much more at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday, as they take on a highly regarded French scrum which has a new weapon in New Zealand-born prop Uini Atonio.
The 23-stone tighthead made an impact during his second half cameo against Scotland, and Ross and company will have to negate that if Ireland are to make it two wins out of two in the 2015 Championship.
“France are very proud of their scrummaging. We put in a good shift against them last year (in the title-winning final game). They’ll be remembering that and looking to put pressure on us at home,” he added.
“They will hold onto what happened last year because it’s a huge pride thing for them. Some French lads can get really fired up if the scrum is not going well for them, so you have to be ready for the battle.
“It’s always tough against them, there’s a few guys changed in their team but they will still be a massive test in the scrum. Nicolas Mas has missed out but they’ve got Rabah Slimani and an absolute monster in Atonio on the bench for a bit of impact.”