Ross ready to defend his '100pc record'
Published 09/02/2012 | 05:00
If the Irish squad harbour any mental demons about another gruelling trip to Paris in sub-Arctic spring, Mike Ross may be able to help.
"I've a 100pc record there," he smiles, as if the sole proprietor of some long-lost arcane secret.
It is still almost quaint to recall that, despite Ross' current indispensability to Leinster and Ireland, he was once exiled in a foreign land, with as much chance of playing for his country as his country had of winning in Paris.
Ironically, Ross managed to do so for Harlequins when they spoiled one of 'Mad' Max Guazzini's Stade Francais spectaculars at a Stade de France steaming with 78,000 fans in a Heineken Cup clash four years ago.
"There was a huge crowd," Ross recalls. "They had bloody jousters on the sideline, knights in full armour going at each other. We were oblivious to that. We were just inside in the tunnel trying not to look at the can-can dancers."
Ireland would have a chance of victory on Saturday were they to engage their opponents upon horseback accompanied by spears; what is evident is that facing the French national side for a team bedecked in green is a prospect that historically invites only failure.
"That was one of my great memories rugby-wise," he reflects. "Hopefully, we can do the same this week, but I don't think the French will take us for granted like perhaps Stade Francais did with Harlequins that day."
Maintaining what is now an almost zealous attempt by the playing squad to dampen down any potential linkage between provincial success and international failure of late, Ross emphasises the difference.
"It's a different kettle of fish this time around. You're playing the national side and they've quality players throughout.
"French teams are always a different animal at home.
"You see it in the Heineken Cup -- when the French teams are at home, they always seem to raise it 10 or 20pc. It's a real mentality in French rugby, I think -- 'this is our home patch, we don't lose here'.
"That always makes it a lot more difficult than it would be if we played at the Aviva.
"It's really a big challenge for us to up our game to the level that is required to win over there."
Ross has had his difficulties with Jean-Baptiste Poux, although the summer evidence of the scrums against France, despite two defeats, offers some consolation as Ireland seek to reverse the formidable tide of history.
"I don't think I've ever seen a weak scrummaging French pack to be honest.
"William Servat is on the bench this week, he's a big scrummager for them, but they brought in Poux, who probably adds a bit more steel to the scrum than they already had.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us this week, it always is. The French, they love their scrum, they take it very seriously.
"It's a big test of manhood for them, so you really have to be switched on and 100pc on your game.
"Otherwise you're going to be going backwards at a rate of knots."