Sunday 25 August 2019

Porter learning to fly after getting tighthead wings

Andrew Porter, left, and Cian Healy celebrate at the final whistle. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Andrew Porter, left, and Cian Healy celebrate at the final whistle. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Mike Ross tells a story about "a huge developmental milestone in a young tighthead's life".

They all go through it, but it doesn't make it any less difficult to deal with when it does happen.

To earn your stripes as a tighthead prop, tough days are part and parcel of the process. Ross calls it "getting your wings".

For Andrew Porter, his moment arrived in UCD last season when Peter Dooley almost drove him into next week.

"It's when you get lifted off the ground," Ross explains.

Throughout his underage days, and particularly in the two years he spent with the Ireland U-20s, Porter had been the one dishing out the punishment.

Earlier this year, after consulting with Joe Schmidt and his management team, Leinster's scrum coach John Fogarty approached Porter about the idea of switching from loosehead to tighthead.

Given the province's embarrassment of riches at loosehead it made sense, but such were Porter's dominant performances at U-20 level, especially during last year's run to the Junior World Cup final, the idea of ripping up the script and starting again had more than one eyebrow raised, including from the player himself.

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"I was quite hesitant at the very beginning obviously," Porter admits. "But once I got a bit of game-time under my belt and trained week-in, week-out, I started becoming more confident with it."

Having started his first international on Saturday, Porter's confidence will be sky high. He was part of a dominant scrum as he built on his debut during the summer tour.

Powerful

Still only 21, Porter is a powerful athlete who is bound for big things. He hits the scales at 125kg, but when he eventually agreed to make the switch, he was very conscious of not losing his ball-carrying prowess.

The former St Andrew's College student is devastating with ball in hand and although we haven't seen that a huge amount since he made the step up to the professional ranks, make no mistake about it, it will come.

"It's something I would like to bring to the table, I want to be one of those ball-carrying props and not just there to scrum," he maintains.

"I would like to excel my game in that sense. It's really an international standard so you can't be a one-trick pony almost. It helps a lot being able to do both."

For those of us who have never packed down in the front-row of a scrum, it's almost impossible to understand the intricacies involved in switching sides, so naturally we leave that to the experts.

"It takes a lot more energy out of you during a game," Porter explains.

"You're more so scrummaging against two people rather than one person, like you would be at loosehead. It would take a bit more out of you in open play.

"It's something I really have to start working on, in terms of my conditioning and really getting used to hitting 10 scrums in the first-half like it was today and being able to get around the park as well.

"When you're a tighthead, your main duty is to lock down a scrum, but it's good to be able to grow the rest of the game around that, carry the ball and get around the park."

Given that Tadhg Furlong is only four years older than him, Porter will have to bide his time, but like his team-mate, he also had to serve his apprenticeship behind Ross before getting his chance.

Memory

There will be plenty of difficult times along the way, but Porter is very much on the right track.

"You have your good and bad days obviously and the bad ones stick out more in your memory," he admits.

"It just keeps you pushing forward, keeps you wanting to learn more and more and get better every week. The more learning I get, it definitely helps getting your wings.

"I'm still learning. It's still relatively new, but I'm getting the hang of it a lot faster than I thought I would.

"Obviously being able to play these big, high-profile games with some of the best players in the world really pays dividends to my experience.

"At the very beginning it was kinda frustrating, but (having) top-quality coaches and top-quality players to be scrummaging against week-in, week-out really helps.

"Being able to scrum against Lions players and Irish players who have a good bit of experience really helps. They are really helping me along and giving me tips and advice.

"It really helped last year, especially when Mike Ross was there. He was almost my mentor."

So has Porter turned into a self-confessed scrum nerd like Ross?

"You have to love scrums when you are a prop. It's just about being consistent week-in, week-out with it.

"Yeah, I'm getting there... I wouldn't say as much as Rossy, though! It would be hard to get up to his levels, but yeah, definitely."

His former mentor would be proud.

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