Thursday 19 September 2019

'I have to pinch myself' - Andrew Porter on his transformation from Leinster loosehead to Ireland tighthead

1 November 2018; Andrew Porter poses for a portrait after an Ireland rugby press conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
1 November 2018; Andrew Porter poses for a portrait after an Ireland rugby press conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey in Chicago

Two years ago, on the same day that Ireland cemented their place in history by beating the All Blacks, Andrew Porter found himself starting in a professional game for the first time.

Zebre's muddy pitch was a world away from the euphoric scenes at Solider Field, but for Porter, it marked the beginning of what was to come.

The 22-year old started at loosehead in Italy that afternoon and since then he has successfully transitioned to the opposite side of the scrum.

Shifting Tadhg Furlong, the best tighthead in world rugby right now, from his starting berth is an enviable task of the highest order, yet Porter has proven to be an able deputy.

Furlong has changed the way tightheads play, but Porter is pretty skilful in his own right.

This evening in Chicago, the former St Andrew's student gets a rare start in the number three jersey, and it is an opportunity that he is eager to seize with both hands.

"I have kind of exceeded a few of my own expectations over the last few years," Porter admits.

"I can't really say I would have expected to be where I am now in that short space of time, especially moving over from loosehead - where I would have been playing at that time two years ago - to the other side of the scrum.

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"I have to kind of pinch myself now. Obviously it's a big step up to test level. I honestly couldn't tell you what I was hoping for back then, I was just taking it in short strides.

"It was crazy how things snowballed so quickly, over the past year especially.

"I think it was last March or something I remember someone saying in the same situation now… it was six months ago since my first game at tighthead for UCD or something like that. It’s been pretty crazy looking back on that."

Packing down along with his Leinster team-mate Jack McGrath, who is the most experienced player in the starting team with 50 caps, will help Porter against an Italian pack who will target Ireland at scrum time.

"It's great to have the experience of Jack and obviously he's a brilliant player as well," he maintains.

"I get to play with him in Leinster as well, and it helps me push on having guys like that beside me. I hope to make it to that number myself!

"It’s always good having Tadhg around. We get on very well together. He’s always there and more than happy to help me out with Leinster and here as well.

"It’s always great having a man of his experience and his skillset and being able to give a few tips. A few of them will hopefully rub off on me this week."

Furlong will return to the starting XV for next week's clash against Argentina in Dublin but for Porter and the other less experienced Irish players facing Italy this evening, it is all about laying down a marker.

"You have to take your opportunities as they come so it is really about playing to your potential, if not better than it," Porter adds.

"So it is really about pushing yourself now and making sure you are doing all the right things in both your provincial and your green jersey."

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