All but lost amidst the praise for the James Ryans and Dan Leavys this season has been the frankly ridiculous progress made by Leinster’s Andrew Porter since he switched sides in the front row.
The absence of fuss over Porter’s transition from loosehead to tighthead is, ironically, a fitting compliment to the ease with which he has mastered one of the hardest tasks in rugby.
When he replaces Tadhg Furlong for club and country there is no panic. Not even a murmur. It is accepted he will hold the fort by locking down the scrum and providing his side with the foundation to maintain continuity.
When Furlong pulled up with a hamstring injury against Italy two months ago, it was left to Porter to see the game out. There were 76 minutes still to go and it was no bother to him. Two weeks later and he put in 67 effective minutes against the Welsh.
It seems unfair to Tom Court that, after 154 games for Ulster and 32 for Ireland, we should remember him chiefly for that day in 2012 in Twickenham when he was asked to replace Mike Ross and the Irish scrum went into meltdown.
But it stands as the best example of just how hard it is for a loose head to sidle over and slot in on the hooker’s other shoulder. Porter is just over a year in the new job, one that started with a steep and tough learning curve back with UCD. He struggled with the new environs in the AIL, by all accounts.
Yet, within a handful of months he was replacing John Ryan as tighthead for Ireland against the USA in New Jersey and he has since played his part in a Grand Slam and in getting Leinster to a European decider.
Not a bad starting point.
“The coaches at the beginning said, ‘there’s going to be a bit of frustration on your part but stick with it’. I did but I obviously didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” he explained ahead of the weekend’s PRO14 clash with Connacht.
Porter will balance rugby commitments this month with some economic exams in UCD and, at just 22, he has plenty of time to learn more about the tricks of his new trade given the tendency for players to peak there in their 30s.
How good he can be at tighthead is another thing. The St Andrew’s grad was singled out as a potentially world-class loosehead during his underage days and we have yet to see the sort of destructive runs that were his trademark since he changed tack.
“Yeah, I think I’m saving it for a rainy day,” he smiled.
A thoughtful type who looks up mindfulness videos on YouTube, he clearly relishes the physical side of the game and he grins broadly when mention is made of how he ran over Jacob Stockdale when Leinster faced them earlier this season.
Chances are he will get the chance to build up some steam against Racing 92 in the Champions Cup final in Bilbao next month when, all going according to form, he will replace Tadhg Furlong in and around the start of the last quarter.
“I love carrying, almost trying to run through lads. It’s part of my game I try to work on, get my hands better, my feet better to not only try to go through people but go around them.”
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