Even in the big games, Andrew Porter finds his eyes drawn to the big screen.
“They’ve been watching closely, you see every now and again he’s on the big screens in the stadium. He’s always watching, you have to be on top of your game,” he said.
The ‘he’ referenced may sound like a deity of sorts, but it is in fact Andy Farrell, the new Ireland head coach, lately spotted at a stadium near you, scouting the nation’s talent ahead of the upcoming Six Nations.
Porter, who started against Benetton and Northampton in the Champions Cup, as well as Ulster and Munster in the festive interpros, has had plenty of time this year to catch the Englishman’s attention.
In fact, the Leinster man — who turns 24 today — has made as many starts this season as he did in the entirety of the last. Coming off the back of a World Cup where he failed to make a single one, his timing could not be better.
“I make goals week by week, if I’m starting or on the bench, I’m just trying to cement myself there, try and put in my best performance,” said Porter.
“And the next week, if I’m on the bench, I’ve to make a good impact off the bench. It’s small goals like that because everyone is after that starting position. It’s just the amount of competition now that drives our performance.”
In Japan, Porter was a distant No2 for the No3 jersey, currently owned by Tadhg Furlong. Porter made five appearances in the East, for a combined 134 minutes of action, but he still has just three starts to his name, in his 23-cap Test career.
“It’s that starting position, for me I want that No3 jersey,” he said. “But for me there is work to do in small aspects of my game, like the small details. It’s just trying to get small improvements, those one-percents people talk about.”
“Defending,” he said, without hesitation. “It’s small things, you know yourself — people mightn’t pick up on them but you know yourself they need work whether it’s catch passing, small skills like that.”
Despite making his World Cup bow just two years after he toured Japan as a rookie, the experience was still a relatively disappointing one. “At the time it’s a bit frustrating, but it’s the team first,” he said.
“I wasn’t really holding any grudges and I was just trying to put my best performance on when I came on for whatever 30 minutes in the game.
It’s great to get the opportunity now to start a few games now and really get a good bit of game time under my belt now.
This is still only a third full season at tighthead for Porter, but with the wealth of experience around and above him, he continues to grow into the role after a youth career at loosehead.
“I feel like I’ve improved in certain aspects of the game,” he said. “Last season I was still learning, and I’m still learning now about my scrumming and everything.
“Me and Tadhg, we’re still very tight together, he gives me a few tips here and there so it’s one of the best things you can have, one of the best tightheads in the world giving you tips.
“I’ve been working closely with my scrum coaches, too, with Robin [McBryde] and John Fogarty, and with [Greg] Feeky at the World Cup as well.”
McBryde is a new voice, following his arrival at Leinster from Wales’ World Cup campaign, and the former Wales hooker has given Porter some priceless insights from behind enemy lines.
He said: “It’s great to get that new perspective in. Obviously he was with Wales so it’s great to get a new perspective from a different coach and obviously he was telling me things that they would have tried to target when they were playing us, so it’s great to hear those things, what other things could be targeting in you.”