Thursday 22 February 2018

Ross ready for forward battle

The only "full-blown jousting" at the Stade de France on Saturday will take place in the pivotal front-row tussle, according to Ireland prop Mike Ross.

Ireland's tighthead recalls horseback knights producing a mediaeval-themed pitch-side display when Harlequins battled with Stade Francais at France's national stadium but t he 34-year-old knows full well France's under-fire forwards are in no mood for sideshows in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations title decider.

Ross' Gallic counterpart Nicolas Mas stormed out of a press conference on Tuesday, bemoaning questions on France's inability to adapt to the revised scrummaging laws.

The Montpellier man labelled the scrum like "a child that has lost its bearings".

Ireland have capitalised on the new scrum engagement sequence, the shorter hit benefitting their compact but powerful front-row.

Leinster front-rower Ross said Ireland have swapped the "sledgehammer" for the "vice" in a bid to dominate the revamped set-piece.

"I don't mind their ground: it's a big amphitheatre-style place," said Ross.

"I remember one year I was over there with Harlequins for a European Cup match against Stade Francais, and they had full-blown jousting on the sidelines.

"I doubt that's going to happen this weekend, we'd be more concerned with their short, squat front-row.

"I know Thomas Domingo quite well having played against him so many times over the years.

"He's a good lad and I'll probably have a beer with him afterwards, but when he's on the pitch he'll try to get into you.

"He's short, squat, he'll try to get under you and take you up, and on the far side then you've got Nicolas Mas who's a fairly well-capped veteran at this stage and I think he's been playing quite well, having watched a bit of him.

"Their scrum has been mixed: sometimes they'll absolutely murder teams, others they get disrupted.

"So again we'll be working hard on that ourselves, trying to make sure any ball they do get is as unpleasant as possible for their scrum-half."

Ross hopes a series of punishing scrum sessions pay dividends one more time this tournament as Ireland chase their first Six Nations title since 2009.

"I think there's a bit of acclimating to the new laws, but I think our scrum's been going quite well so far," said Ross.

"And we've got to make sure it continues on that upward curve.

"I think it's something we've worked extremely hard on.

"Some of the scrummaging sessions we've been doing it feels like another fitness session.

"There's a lot of pressure: the new laws have changed it from being hit with a sledge to being squeezed in a vice.

"So out goes the sledge and in comes the vice, so it's a different type of pressure.

"With the squad we have, we've got Marty Moore and Jack McGrath pushing myself and Cian Healy hard every week.

"So you know if you're even a fraction off, they'll have you.

"I think that's good for the squad as a whole and it's been working quite well for us.

"If you look at the impact the bench has been making in the last few weeks, it's really been making quite a difference.

"Cian's world-class, he's going so well out there, and the new laws have really suited him.

"He's so strong that if he gets a sniff at all he'll often deal to you.

"Jack [McGrath] has been playing well too though, the pair of them mixing and matching quite well for both Leinster and Ireland."

Ireland hunt just their third win in Paris in 43 years on Saturday, on the occasion of Brian O'Driscoll's 141st and final Test appearance.

The 35-year-old centre's hat-trick in 2000 proved central to Ireland's last Paris triumph.

The two sides' last two meetings have been draws, 17-17 in France in 2012 and 13-13 in Dublin last term.

"We should have won in Paris [in 2012], and we should have won last year too," added Ross.

"We haven't won there since Drico's hat-trick and it's something we really want to put right this weekend.

"We're aware of the record but it's not an issue or a problem, this is an opportunity to make history for us."

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