Friday 6 December 2019

George Hook: Throwback Ross can prove why he's our most valuable player

Tighthead Mike Ross has the toughest task of any Ireland player against Georgia. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Tighthead Mike Ross has the toughest task of any Ireland player against Georgia. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

George Hook

This is a big rugby weekend with really interesting things to watch. The threat of a washout in Genoa meant the move of Italy's game against Argentina to yesterday; tonight either England or South Africa will see their autumn season in tatters, Philippe St Andre breaks the habit of a lifetime to name an unchanged side; and Richie McCaw plays on the blindside.

Meanwhile, there is the very minor matter of Ireland taking on Georgia in the Aviva tomorrow. Joe Schmidt has been lucky with the fixtures - unlike England, South Africa and Australia, who have to play two massive games in a row.


Conversely, the Ireland coach has the luxury of putting out his reserves against the hapless Georgians, who are nothing like the team that almost embarrassed Eddie O'Sullivan and Co at the 2007 World Cup in France.

The former Soviet republic, more famous for being the birthplace of Stalin than its rugby prowess will, scrum apart, offer little more than token resistance. If the visitors do well then some notable pretenders to Schmidt's first XV will have suffered a setback.

All eyes are focused on the contest a week hence against Australia.

The Irish stars will have their feet up while Michael Cheika has put his best players on the pitch for a second week running in the big challenge against France.

It means that Cheika will have to ask some if not all players to play three tough games in consecutive weeks, or risk giving Schmidt the advantage from the off.

Meanwhile, Schmidt, has broken the habit of his period in charge by picking an utterly predictable team. Bringing in Gordon D'Arcy for a pipe-opener and retaining Simon Zebo were obvious, and the other backs picked themselves.

Similarly, up front, Mike Ross needs a run, although he faces the toughest individual task of the team as Georgia will attempt to blunt the Irish attack by sending the green scrum on its customary back-pedalling mode.

Just how Ross lasted against South Africa is a mystery but it was an amazing display of courage and technique.

He is a throwback to the 1950s, when props were expected to do nothing expect scrummage. Ross is a poor ball-carrier, an average tackler and has low cardio-vascular endurance, yet is Ireland's most valuable player bar none.

Any doubters can watch what happens if Rodney Ah You makes an appearance.

The scrum will also give an indication of where Dave Kilcoyne stands in the pecking order.


The Munster player started as the great hope to strengthen the squad but he never made a place his own. This may be his last chance, and where better than against some of the best props in Europe?

The rest of the pack is made up of selling-platers but it will be interesting if Richardt Strauss shows any improvement in his lineout throwing.

It is astonishing that after 40 years of hookers throwing at the lineout, the improvement in skill level is way behind the advances made in every other aspect of the game.

If Ah You is the most interesting reserve, then Robin Copeland who will be unknown to many in the ground, has a great opportunity to catapult himself into the back-row frame should Sean O'Brien not make a return or continue his regular absences through injury.

My eyes will be fixed on Ian Madigan at No 10. He is easily one of the most exciting talents among Irish three-quarters and has been ill-served by his coaches at provincial and international level. As comedian Risteard Cooper recently suggested, his versatility may have him in the frame should Ross get hurt.

Tomorrow he must show Schmidt that first and foremost he is the reserve fly-half, with reasonable expectations to replace D'Arcy and have a fair shot to be heir-apparent to the crown of Brian O'Driscoll.

He possesses all the wonderful running and handling skills to play at 10, 12 or 13; he defends bravely but not always well; his kicking from the ground is acceptable; but he cannot control a game with his boot.

If he wants to be a fly-half then like Jonathan Sexton he must learn to kick for territory and position. It was in Ronan O'Gara's DNA but at school in Blackrock College and with Leinster, playing behind dominant packs honed Madigan's running game but not his control.

Even in the U-12s in Old Belvedere, his strengths and weaknesses were obvious.

Tomorrow afternoon will be an enjoyable day out and hopefully we will see parents and families enjoying the special day that is an international weekend at Lansdowne Road.

Ireland will win but who will be the individual winners and losers will be the conundrum.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: The problem with the Champions Cup, the Stephen Larkham effect and trouble in Welsh rugby

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport