Wednesday 21 February 2018

Porter: I'd like to think Mum is smiling down at me and I'm doing her proud

Leinster prop Andrew Porter has the name of his late mother Wendy tattooed on his left arm. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Leinster prop Andrew Porter has the name of his late mother Wendy tattooed on his left arm. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The first thing you notice about Andrew Porter when he settles into the office chair at the top of Leinster's boardroom is his pure size. Then, you hone in on his ink.

In the past year, Leinster's 21-year-old rising star has paid tribute to his late mother by tattooing his left arm.

On his enormous bicep is a depiction of a statue in Rome, a place they holidayed together before her death in 2008, while on his forearm is a dove. In between is the inscription of her name.

Sadly, Wendy Porter never got to see her son make his Ireland debut in New Jersey in June or play in front of 53,000 people at the Aviva Stadium earlier this month but he hopes she's looking down full of pride as he continues to make big strides in the game.

"My Dad was the one who got me into rugby when I was five, but she was very sporty herself and she always kind of kept me going that way," he says softly.

"When she passed it was a big driving factor for me. To keep the family proud almost.

"I was about 12. I guess, in a way, it affected my life in a lot of different ways. I kind of use it now... if she's looking over me, I'd like to think she's looking down, smiling down at me, that I'm doing her proud."

This is just the first chapter in Porter's sporting life. Clearly, he is ear-marked for big things.

When, a year ago, forwards coach John Fogarty approached him with the proposition of moving from loosehead to tighthead prop, he would have been within his rights to stick to his guns and play his favoured position.

Instead, he took the bullet and despite having been the standout No 1 at the tournament as Ireland reached the final of the U-20 World Cup in 2016, he began learning the ropes on the other side.

By the end of the season, he was rewarded with an Ireland cap. Now he has three and, having been 24th man ahead of Saturday's win over Argentina, his eyes are on a first Champions Cup appearance and Six Nations involvement.

Rugby, Porter reveals, only became a serious career prospect 18 months ago when he was tearing up trees for the U-20s, but the record-breaking work he'd been doing in the gym at St Andrew's had been steeling him for the big-time since he was a teenager.

Talk of the 6ft, 20-stone kid squatting 350kg was doing the rounds in the Leinster dressing-room long before he made his debut and he drew confidence from the fact that senior pros were impressed by his work.

"When I came in here, you're surrounded by everyone else, it's almost like a motivating factor to... I wouldn't say out-lift them but it's great being with people driven by the same goals as you are," he said.

"I get the best of both worlds, I get to train day-in, day-out in the gym and then go out and do what I love on the pitch.

"It was just always a big kind of hobby for me, always being in the gym.

"My strength and conditioning coach in St Andrew's was a big motivator for me. David Jones, he's still there now. He did great things with me personally and my team when I was in sixth year.

"I kind of almost got big and tried to build my rugby skills around it. It was a bit easier doing it that way.

"Now I can kind of focus more on my rugby skills and keep pushing forward in my scrumming and stuff like that."

His Dad, Ernie, was a centre for Carlow RFC and Old Wesley but it became clear early on that Andrew was destined for the front-row.

Having established himself on the left-hand side of the scrum, he's now adjusting to life on the right.

Like all tightheads, he struggled at first and one-time rival and Leinster academy colleague Peter Dooley had him in trouble during a club game, but he's adapting.

"I was confused more than anything, I thought I was going well at loosehead but then John Fogarty came up to me one day and said, 'look, we want to see what you're like at tighthead, you have the size, you have the traits for it'," he recalls.

"Then a few trainings later I was slotting in at tighthead. It's been kind of a learning curve from back then till now but I think I've come along a decent bit in a fair amount of time.

"It was tough at the beginning. Obviously with the call-up to the summer squad it was a great boost to my confidence and being called for the November internationals was another big boost.

"It's about pushing myself here at Leinster, pushing for a spot, pushing for that Champions Cup spot and getting a result.

"The Six Nations is a big goal for me, yeah, but this window in Leinster is a big opportunity for me.

"I haven't played Champions Cup yet, but that's the next step for me I think.

"If all goes well with my performance (against Treviso) this week, hopefully I'll put my name in the hat against Exeter."

His trajectory is only going one way and he's hoping to accelerate it in the coming weeks and months.

There's plenty to be proud of.

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