Mike Ross ready to answer Leinster's call to arms

Leinster may be paying a first visit to the Altrad Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but Mike Ross has a pretty good idea as to what the three-time champions can expect from the Languedoc locals.
Mike Ross ready to answer Leinster's call to arms

Ross was one of only six of the squad that featured against Castres in last weekend’s Champions Cup opener who took an active part when the province faced Montpellier at the nearby Stade de la Mosson five seasons ago.

A late Jonathan Sexton penalty, kicked amid the bangs and whistles of the vociferous home crowd, rescued a draw for Joe Schmidt’s side that day after a bruising battle that had the hosts leading by ten points at one stage.

“It’s a bit of a bear pit,” recalled Ross. “I think they’ve lost just one game at home to date in the Top 14. They’re up near the top of the table. They’re only four points off the lead. They’re a quality side and they’re coached by Jake White, so there’s a strong South African influence throughout the side.

“I was just looking at their pack and it’s pretty big. Most of their second-rows are 120 kgs plus. Their front-rows are the same. They’ve got two decent tight-heads, (Davit) Kubriashvili and Jannie du Plessis. Bismarck (du Plessis) is out, which is probably good news for us.”

White’s no-frills influence and the presence of four fellow South Africans and three Georgians have all earned the side the nickname “les langueboks”. Leinster will be clocking in for a punishing shift.

Ross has no beef with that.

Head coach Leo Cullen opted for the youth of Tadhg Furlong at tighthead this last two weeks for the games with Munster and Castres but a hamstring injury has threatened the Wexford man’s input this time. Time for the 36-year-old to slip back in.

“He’s done really well for himself and it’s a strange sort of surprise for me that it takes some time for someone to come and displace me, but I have an opportunity this week and I’d like to think we don’t really know the pecking order if it’s a final.

“He’s definitely one who’s been pushing me and I’ve been trying to push him so hopefully we’ll have a similar type of relationship as Jack (McGrath) and Cian (Healy at loosehead).”

The concern for Leinster is not with Ross but rather the back-up if Furlong is unavailable. Michael Bent is limited and after that there is only the inexperience of Oisin Heffernan and John O’Loughlin.

Impact off the bench will be required at the weekend, as it was back in 2011 when it was the replacements sent in by Schmidt - the try-scoring Sean Cronin among them - who turned the game back in their favour.

Ross can’t worry about that.

Whether he features for 40 or 80 minutes, he knows the effort required to check a hefty French pack playing on home soil. Leinster were good up front last week, they’ll have to be better again on Sunday.

“Yeah, we’ll have to be,” Ross accepted. “They’ll probably be a bit more composed than Castres were. They played each other last weekend, so we’ll have a look at how that went. A lot of the scrums in the Top 14 can turn into a bit of a mess, it’s just go for it by whatever means necessary and the refs just go with it a lot of the time.”

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