Mike Ross: ‘I have a loan of the jersey this week’

Mike Ross makes no bones about it: He feared his Ireland career was over.

Mike Ross: ‘I have a loan of the jersey this week’

For so long the undisputed tighthead for both club and country, Ross suddenly found himself with his weekends all to himself last month right when Leinster were embroiled in do-or-die European fare.

Not just dropped to the bench, but omitted from the match day squad as Leinster coach coach Matt O’Connor opted for the youth and vigour of Marty Moore to start against Castres and Wasps and Tadhg Furlong to provide the cover.

It must have been a chastening experience.

“Look, it was pretty tough to take at the time,” admitted Ross who has nevertheless retained his place with Ireland for the opening Six Nations encounter of the season, against Italy in Rome, tomorrow.

“I was rested for the game against Cardiff and the boys did really well in that and Matt decided to keep that tandem in situ. It was a bit of a strange one for me watching it. The only thing I could do was knuckle down, work on the bits of my game.”

The impression was that it was his form, or lack of it, that had cost him his spot although O’Connor claimed belatedly that it was Ross’ perceived difficulties with French referee Jerome Garces in December away to Harlequins that had coloured his thoughts. Ross could have gone along with that yesterday, but didn’t.

If there were any particular issues with Garces, who also took charge of the round six game away to Wasps, then he wasn’t aware of them although he agreed that some referees interpret players better than others in the scrum.

Either way, he admits that his form since returning from injury to lock down Ireland’s scrum in the November internationals had been “a bit mixed” with the setpiece difficulties in London against Harlequins an obvious contributor to his recent downfall.

All this came on top of a one-year contract extension signed in December when he had publicly sought two so the call he received from Joe Schmidt who he knows well given the latter’s time coaching Leinster all the more welcome.

Keep plugging away, the Ireland coach told him and they would see where the cards lay. Fifty-three minutes for the Wolfhounds last Friday suggested Schmidt wasn’t done with him yet and so it proved yesterday when the team for Rome was announced.

“It is a good confidence booster, yeah. I think with Joe I have a bit of credit in the bank with him. I have a loan of the jersey for this week and I have to pay it back and see if I can get it again the following week.”

He seems quite philosophical about it all, truth be told.

It’s not like this is the first bump in his road. He had to leave Ireland for Harlequins to make a name for himself and he languished in the shadows for some time under Michael Cheika at Leinster before making the team as a regular.

Ross was just seven months shy of his 35th birthday by the time he made his Ireland debut so patience and fortitude are virtues he has had to hone long before now and the 35-year old is determined to squeeze every last drop from his career while he can.

“Of course I’m going to say this but age is just a number. As long as you are happy with how you’re performing on the pitch and in the gym you can keep going. You look at Brad Thorn, he is 40 and still going strong and a bloody legend at Leicester.

“He’s looked after himself pretty well over the years and he is an icon you can look at and think it can be done. Now, I’m not saying I’m going to keep going until I’m 40, but as long as I am performing well and enjoying it I’ll see how long I can hang on for.”

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