Thursday 8 December 2016

Looking on from outside is hard - but I'm so proud

Player Diary: Mike Ross

Published 11/11/2016 | 02:30

Mike Ross during squad training. Picture: Sportsfile
Mike Ross during squad training. Picture: Sportsfile
Mike Ross in action for Leinster against Munster. Picture: Sportsfile
Adam Byrne scoring his side’s fifth try against Zebre. Picture: Sportsfile

Rugby can be a cruel mistress at times. I've had some of the best days in my life thanks to rugby, things I'll remember forever. Unfortunately the flip side of this coin is that it isn't always smooth sailing and you'll have some dark days in your career too.

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One of those came a couple of weeks ago, when I got the news that I wasn't going to be featuring in the squad for the November Series. Usually you're notified of your inclusion by an email popping into your inbox, and that's it. A personal phone call on the other hand is never usually good news and your heart always skips a beat when you see Joe Schmidt's number come up on your phone.

It's to his credit that he never shies away from making those calls as it can't be easy to call a guy who you know definitely doesn't want to be having this conversation! Of course I was hugely disappointed - it was the first squad I'd been left out of in six years - but after talking to him I understood his reasons.

I mightn't necessarily accept them, but knowing him as long as I do I don't think he'd want me to either!

I do know the door isn't closed and even though my 37th birthday is fast approaching I don't think I'll abandon hope of playing international rugby again.

The body is still feeling good, and my personal view is that I'll keep playing as long as I feel like I'm still contributing positively to the team. When I think I can't do that anymore, that's when it's time to hang up the boots.

As it turned out, I was into camp anyway on the Sunday before the game. Finlay Bealham had taken a knock in the Leinster-Connacht game and they brought me in as precautionary cover in case he had to pull out. He was given the all-clear on Monday, and so instead of packing for Chicago it was back to Leinster to prepare for a match against Zebre.

These games while the internationals away are hugely crucial, as points picked up in November matter just as much as points picked up in May. Preparations went well during the week; for all the international call-ups we could still field 10 capped players, and yet Tom Daly made his debut in the centre and Andrew Porter made his first start.

I was on the bench; five minutes after coming on I was off again, after getting injured carrying the ball of all things. Initial indications are that it's not too bad but I'll be getting further scans during the week.

In the end we ran out 33-10 winners, with Adam Byrne claiming a hat trick and the man of the match award. Tom Daly and Jack Conan also claimed tries, along with the valuable bonus point.

Afterwards we all clustered around the laptops in the airport to watch the Ireland v New Zealand game, burning through precious roaming data as the local WiFi wasn't up to much. Unfortunately we had to take off during the second half, and were reliant on the pilot finding out the score. When the final score was announced there was a big cheer on the plane.

I watched the game when I got back and there were standout performances from everyone. In particular, I was hugely proud of Tadhg Furlong. I've known him a long time coming through from the Academy, and it was great to see him do so well.

In a strange sort of way, I take pride in the fact it took someone playing as well as he did to displace me. It's scary to think that he's just 23, a baby in prop terms, and the potential he has.

After watching the game, I felt some mixed emotions. While I was delighted for the lads, I was also gutted that I missed out on a historic day for Irish rugby. There were few of us in the same boat. Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and Tommy Bowe would all have been watching enviously. It just shows the strength in depth that's available to Irish rugby currently.

For those of us at Leinster we've a week off now, and then a game against Scarlets on the 25th. I'll be rehabbing away in the meantime trying to get back in the frame for selection. Every point counts now, and we'll be trying to get as many as possible during this block.

Irish Independent

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