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Ross is happy props rising

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Leinster's Mike Ross. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Mike Ross. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Mike Ross. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

YOU only have to go back two years to Tom Court's Six Nations humiliation against England at Twickenham to find Ireland's cornerstone crisis.

When Mike Ross had to leave early with a pectoral injury, Court, an already failed experiment at tight-head, was asked to anchor the scrum.

This was before the new rules allowed an entire front row of replacements, and a workday loose-head had to do more than a passing impression of a tight-head just to survive. Court could not do it.

There was a panic-stricken cry back home as Ross was seen as the only viable option at tight-head and another generation of rugby would have to be played out under the heading: 'one option only'.

The memories of John Hayes and how he had shouldered the burden of a nation came flooding back. He lasted 13 years and 105 caps, to amass a world-record in international appearances for the position.

The public perception did not line-up with the privately held opinion of Leinster scrum coach Greg Feek. He knew he had the raw materials in Martin Moore and Tadhg Furlong. They just needed time.

Ideally, 22-year-old Moore would have been held back a little longer from the brutality of being an international tight-head. But he has met the challenges head-on this season, with new rules taking away the hit-and-chase suiting his squat physique.

Never mind enemies, you have to keep your friends and competitors closer still. The novice is lighting a fire under Ross. And that is good for Leinster.

"It's good for Ireland as a whole," said Ross, about the nationwide competitive edge in the front row.

"You want good, Irish-qualified front rows coming through. You don't want to be overly reliant on one guy in each province. You need that strength in depth."

Leinster will have to wait and see what combination Munster coach Rob Penney will look to for the PRO12 League encounter between the leaders and third-placed Munster at a sold-out Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

They have started to generate their own roster of legitimate domestic loose-head props, with Ireland-capped Dave Kilcoyne and Ireland-bound James Cronin to the fore.

"I think they're pretty close," said 34-year-old Ross.

"I mean it's very fine margins get you selected at this level. I think they've been pushing each other pretty hard. I've been watching them over the past season.

"I think it was James Cronin's debut last season and it's testament to how far he has come that he's pushing Dave Kilcoyne, who only really made a breakthrough in the last couple of seasons.

"He's (Kilcoyne) probably getting a bit annoyed because he's just got his arse in the chair and some young fella is trying to push him out of it but that's the way it is!"

There will be a fire burning under the Munster men as a whole host of them look to put right the perceived wrongs handed down by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

"It's an inter-provincial. Often in the past, inter-provincials served as mini-trials of sorts and I don't think anything much has changed in that regard," said Ross.

The claims of Penney that Munster will travel to play "the Six Nations champions" has poured more fuel on to the fire as both provinces also prepare for Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

"Yeah, it's probably a bit tongue in cheek to be honest, Rob's comments," said Ross.

"Look, guys who missed out will always have a bit of an edge about them because they have something to prove and we are aware of that, whereas if you've got that jersey, you don't want to give it up.

"At the same time, it's a pretty important game in the Rabo. There's only two points between us at the moment and we want to stay at the top and this will go a long way towards ensuring that."


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