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Italy open Mike night

Mike Ross cut an interesting figure in Donnybrook last Sunday afternoon.

On the pitch below, the Leinster 'A' team were continuing their build up for the season, the morning after the Cardiff Blues victory.

With players either stepping up their rehabilitation, looking to get some game time after summer moves, or coming back from their separate senior or U20 international conditioning programmes, all of the assembled players had one thing in common. Take this opportunity to make an impression.

Ross took his seat in the Donnybrook stand amongst the remainder of his provincial colleagues, his tired limbs betraying the freshness and clarity in his mind and body after an in-and-out debut season, and set upon live action real-time analysis. Always observing, never failing to learn something new.

As solid a 67-minute performance as the Cork-born tight-head enjoyed against the Cardiff Blues the previous evening, he knew that it was nothing more than a start. A platform from which to go on.

As Ross moved from the symbolic cap total of 21 to 22 last week, he turned a key having missed the opening round trip to Glasgow with a calf strain. Now that the door is open you sense that Ross is determined to keep it so.

"It's inevitable that you're going to be blowing hard on your first outing but it was good to knock the cobwebs out," he said ahead of the squad's lunchtime departure to Treviso. "I played in the first pre-season game at home to London Wasps, but I was pretty much off my feet for the next two weeks with the calf injury.

"So after the first pre-season game it felt like I started my pre-season all over again against Cardiff. But I'm feeling fitter now and am looking forward to hopefully getting a few games under my belt over the next few weeks."

For backs it's the completion of slick, well-worked moves. For hookers it's sending polished darts at lineouts. For kickers, it's the sight of figurative eggs sailing through the big H. So does the sight of opposition scrums turning full circle turn props on?


"Well I'm not sure if I'd go that far," he grins. "But it is satisfying to gain any measure of dominance in scrums because it's a small contest in the context of the game that you have won.

"You do take pleasure from winning penalties at scrums and thankfully things went well for us last weekend. I think that a lot of credit for that needs to go to Greg Feek (Scrum Coach) who has come in this year and we're hopefully going to reap the benefits of having a scrum coach of his calibre.

"It's certainly an aspect that we have worked extremely hard on this year and against a team with as physical and confrontational front row as Treviso, we are expecting another big test in that area on Saturday.

"Overall I think we did well at set-piece, but on reflection we probably feel as though we can improve a bit further this week. To be fair to Cardiff they didn't have their first choice front row starting off, so we have to keep that in mind and not get too far ahead of ourselves in (terms of) how we did."

Ross knows that Italian grit, coupled with the determination to build on their opening day 34-28 victory at home to the Scarlets in the Stadio di Monigo, means that Leinster can expect a fiercely competitive test against one of two newcomers into the Magners League, each determined to make an impression.

"You know that whenever you come up against an Italian team that you're going to be asked questions of your set-piece," the 30-year-old admits.

"I played in Italy once before with UCC and it will be a new environment, even though Treviso are an established side in the Heineken Cup.

"If they get the edge there it will be a long evening for us. If we can do well in that area, it will take the edge off them and it will be one less thing for us to worry about.

"We've looked at Treviso this week and it is a trip into the unknown for us.

"We'll certainly have a better idea how strong they are after this weekend, but so far we have been impressed."