Friday 21 October 2016

Mike Ross: Training at altitude one of the worst things I've ever done

Published 14/06/2016 | 02:30

Mike Ross of Ireland during squad training in Westerford High School, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Mike Ross of Ireland during squad training in Westerford High School, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland kept things light on their first full day on the Highveld yesterday and this morning they will train at altitude for the first time.

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Whereas the first Test took place by the coast in Cape Town, Saturday's venue Johannesburg is 1,700 metres above sea level and will present a fresh challenge for the tourists and their strength and conditioning team which is led by Jason Cowman.

Traditionally, home games at altitude are seen as a major advantage to South Africa who have a large contingent of players who play their regular season rugby in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein which are all on the Highveld.

Ellis Park, where the Springboks won the World Cup in 1995, has been seen as the team's fortress yet they have lost three of their last five games at the venue; albeit against the Lions once and New Zealand twice.

Jamie Heaslip was part of that Lions win in 2009, while CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss and Quinn Roux have all experienced the veld, but the rest of the Irish-born contingent are in for something new.

"No, I've never played at altitude, but I've done some research on it," Mike Ross said. "I've trained at altitude when I was in a tent and it was one of the most horrific things I've ever done.

"Leinster got an altitude tent for pre-season about two seasons ago, they dropped the oxygen down to about 13 per cent and then you had to do about 10 minutes of very intense exercise and, honestly, your vision was going black around the edges coming out of it.


"Johannesburg is about 1,500 metres (above sea level) and I've looked it up and it's about 82 per cent oxygen there so hopefully, with a week in, we'll adjust to it. It could be worse. The training was on a bike or a rower. So, it was only 10 minutes but it was… I don't think Johannesburg is as bad as the tent."

Ross's main focus this week will be addressing the issues that saw Ireland's scrum come under huge pressure during the first Test, albeit mainly during the period when CJ Stander was off the pitch.

Up against the world-renowned power of Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira, the tighthead wants to see improvements.

"I wasn't overly happy with scrum," he confessed.

"Look, we were down to seven forwards for a large part of it so I think we can do better there.

"We know they're a very proud rugby nation. We've played against them before, we know what they're about and they certainly won't be happy. We've experienced it, they'll be very keen to put things right."

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