Monday 26 September 2016

Ross: Ireland step-up 'like learning new language'

Published 10/03/2016 | 02:30

Mike Ross: 'You see these guys coming into the set-up, they're new and excited. They're also a bit nervous and you want them to integrate quickly but you also know that they've been playing well and deserve their chance' Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Mike Ross: 'You see these guys coming into the set-up, they're new and excited. They're also a bit nervous and you want them to integrate quickly but you also know that they've been playing well and deserve their chance' Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Only George Martin could have persuaded an exposed, fearful 22-year-old Paul McCartney to introduce a string quartet to add a little "something" to the ballad lying before them.

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"We can't end up sounding like Mantovani!" protests Macca. Martin, thankfully, persists but with an offer to resist. If it doesn't fly, they will revert to the original. Yesterday was born.

A different pressure.

Sometimes life is about taking a risk, bounding that step out of the ordinary, trying something different; unprompted, you never know what might happen.

Sometimes, when change is impelled by fate, it can be tempting to revert to type when those circumstances change, rather than continue into the great unknown.

Forcibly

For Ireland in this Six Nations, change has been forcibly induced rather than being implemented by choice; the World Cup ended precisely for this reason, so it appears few lessons have been learned.

Ireland still cannot win a match in this tournament; at least some new blood and a belatedly new approach to how the sport is played has cheered some Irish hearts.

And yet the pressure to conform, to resist, remains within the squad despite the mostly supportive, enthusiastic public clamouring for even more youth, vigour and brio in how the football is used.

A recently retired player speaks ominously as Ireland prepare to face an Italy side to whom they have lost just once this millennium - "repercussions", "suffocating", "pressure" and "horrible feeling" all get a mention.

Against Italy! Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier and Stu McCloskey felt none of the above in Twickenham defeat yet only one may be retained this week; any pressure or resistance to change seems to be self-imposed.

Mike Ross was once a victim of this resistance; he had to wait until his 30th year to become an overnight success for Ireland thanks to the conservative and exclusionist selection policy of the IRFU.

The two major injuries of his career have prompted Ireland to suffer catastrophic collapses yet still the country has no palpable, coherent succession policy in his position.

Tighthead is a microcosm of Ireland's historic failure to plan for the future. Tadhg Furlong, who needs time to fail in a green jersey, was given barely none. Now Ireland could make the same mistake with the 'Twickenham three', despite their instant impact in a losing squad, Ross (below) appreciates the impetus they introduced.

"You see these guys coming into the set-up, they're new and excited. They're also a bit nervous and you want them to integrate quickly but you also know that they've been playing well and deserve their chance," he says.

"You're a little bit excited for them because it brings back memories of your first cap too. You want them to have positive memories of that first cap and unfortunately it wasn't to be for them against England."

It is an obvious rejoinder; if these three managed the transition so easily, why can't more join them?

"A couple of them will have been in and out of camps so they will have had an idea of what is going on," he demurs.

"It's not like you took guys from outside the set-up and dump them in for the week. It's not as simple as that because there is a lot of stuff to take on board.

"It's like learning a different language. Going from your province to your country, there are lots of different calls, things aren't the same. You'd be doing them a disservice to just jump somebody in without acclimatising them first."

Ross is inside the tent so is not expected to heed the public's every whim; albeit, his recent injury absence compelled him to share it.

As Ireland lost in Paris, with accompanying, Ross-less creaking scrum, the 36-year-old Corkonian's wife Kimberley had unwittingly scheduled his son's birthday for the same time.

Risibly

Irish players risibly always speak of living in a bubble, despite their ceaseless twittering and ready access to social media; some of them, bizarrely, even bring their phones to training.

For Ross, watching some of the game with like-minded but more detached fans was an interesting experience.

"There's not really much you can do about the match," he says. "You are probably watching it a bit more analytically than most people. You kind of know yourself what is supposed to be happening.

"You would be like 'is he doing his role here?' 'Is he going where he is supposed to be?' 'What play is this?' 'What are they doing here?'.

"You would have a bit more of an idea what's coming next than your average punter."

He expects Ireland, new blood or no, to be better against Italy.

An hour before he laid down Yesterday, McCartney had sung I'm Down, little knowing that he would soon reach unprecedented heights.

Had he feared failure, he could never have done so.

Irish Independent

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