Mike Ross is now a Leinster stalwart. His absence though could be Marty Moore’s gain.
With Leinster set to face Castres this weekend, there was one noticeable absentee from the first choice 23. We’ve become accustomed to missing names like Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and a host of other first teamers through injury, yet, a man who has often been the cornerstone of the side drops out of the whole squad for the first time in recent memory. That man is of course, Mike Ross.
The Cork Constitution prop left his native province of Munster in 2006 after struggling to get any chances in the famed red jersey. His destination was London, where he signed on to play for Harlequins.
Ross went on to spend three years at the English club, creating a name for himself across English Rugby. He became a large part of the Harlequins side that earned promotion back into the Premiership, before moving steadily up the table over successive seasons. A formidable scrummager, it was Ross’ technique and power come scrum time that allowed him to forge a reputation.
It is important to note that this is at a time when Ireland were not exactly brimming with riches when it came to tighthead props. John Hayes was a mainstay of the side with little to no competition, yet Ross was continually ignored despite his growing reputation across the channel – not an unusual case, with Irish based players getting preferential calls.
In 2009, Mike Ross left England and returned to Irish shores, signing for provincial rivals Leinster. It became apparent rather quickly that the tighthead prop might be the one who got away for Munster, with Ross showing signs of what made him such a valuable asset in England early on into his Leinster career.
After easing himself into life at Leinster, he quickly became a revelation at the province. During the 2010-2011 season Mike Ross not only translated his positive performances from Harlequins to Leinster, he also transformed the Leinster scrum. The scrum became more than just a steady platform, it became a weapon. And this is largely due to not only Ross’ own contribution to the scrum from the crucial tighthead position, but also from his intricate knowledge of scrummaging.
The next step for Mike Ross was international honours, yet Declan Kidney’s conservative selection policy was a huge barrier for the in-form front row forward. Ross found it difficult to get ahead of an aging John Hayes, despite Hayes clearly being on a downward trajectory.
Yet when Ross did get his chance he took it and never looked back. He became as important to Ireland as he was to Leinster, if not more so.
If this was ever in doubt look no further than The Twickenham Massacre of 2012 – the day Mike Ross got injured and Tom Court was annihilated by the English front row in the 2012 6 Nations. From that the day on it was clear – Ross is as important to the Irish cause as Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell.
Tomorrow against Castres Mike Ross drops out of the Leinster squad for the first time in recent memory. Preferred to him are Marty Moore, and Tadhg Furlong – two extremely young tighthead props who have stood their ground in every game they’ve been called upon, impressing on various occasions. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a good tighthead prop, but Furlong and Moore have developed at an alarmingly quick rate.
In Marty Moore you have Ireland’s next tighthead prop. Whilst he had his fair share of injury problems during the course of this season, his return was a welcome subplot in Wales last weekend. In only his fourth appearance of the season, he grew into the game against Cardiff and reminded us of his worth. Extremely solid come scrum time, and a hard worker around the pitch, we’ve only scratched the surface of his potential talents.
He is aptly backed up by Tadgh Furlong on the bench. Furlong is a shade younger than Moore, and the Wexford native has a number of fans having impressed throughout the age grade systems and academy at Leinster. He has come through the system with huge success and has also shown himself to be an excellent scrummager, with a strong all round game.
Mike Ross giving way tomorrow to his two younger competitors is symbolic in a sense. The man who changed the way Ireland have scrummed in the professional era is drops out of the matchday squad, while the two men who may very well change the face of Ireland’s front row over the next 10 years take his place.
With years of top level experience and expertise, Ross is an invaluable asset to the squad. His contribution to Irish Rugby will often go unnoticed, but Mike Ross forms a cornerstone of Ireland and Leinster’s success over recent years.
Ross’ absence from the squad tomorrow gives Furlong and Moore a huge chance to show what they can bring to the mix. It is rare to see players in their early 20s starting in a tighthead position, yet it hasn’t fazed either of the youthful Leinster duo. There is no doubt that they are the future, but tomorrow gives them the chance to show that the future is now.
Featured image by justinhourigan (flickr) via Wikimedia Commons