Porter up front on scrum struggles ahead of La Rochelle test

Andrew Porter could have sought comfort and refuge in the collective. He could have spoken in vague terms about the issues Leinster have had in the scrum in their last two Heineken Champions Cup games.
Porter up front on scrum struggles ahead of La Rochelle test

Leinster's Andrew Porter (right) during a training session at the Leinster Rugby HQ, Rosemount, University College Dublin in Ireland. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Andrew Porter could have sought comfort and refuge in the collective. He could have spoken in vague terms about the issues Leinster have had in the scrum in their last two Heineken Champions Cup games.

Exceptional as they have been against Leicester Tigers and Toulouse, there is the unavoidable fact that they have conceded nine penalties at that setpiece across the quarter- and semi-finals.

Not ideal when approaching Saturday’s date with La Rochelle.

“Particularly because it’s kind of my side of the scrum as well,” said the straight-talking loosehead. “It’s not a huge kind of a pack thing that we are looking at. I’m trying to fix those mistakes that I have made in those last games against Leicester and Toulouse.

“It’s little small things. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel here. You trying to finetune a few things and that’s what you will really need against La Rochelle this week with the pack that they have. We’ll have to be on top of our game in that sense and myself in particular.”

Porter broke onto the Leinster senior squad as a loosie but spent seasons two through to five as a tighthead before someone came up with the idea that they would kind of like to have him and Tadhg Porter complement rather than compete with each other.

It made sense.

He has made 17 appearances in the ‘new role’ this season, eleven of them in blue. It’s not an enormous body of work for a man who is having to relearn the trade at the very highest of levels so it's understandable that the transition is still a work in progress.

“Yeah, look, I suppose it could be but every game you play you are playing against different opposition that scouted you so they know exactly what to look for,” he said ahead of what will be another searching examination this weekend.

“Every game you play is going to be different and every scrum you hit is different in that sense as well so you need to be able to learn out on the pitch as well. It is down to that moving across where every day is kind of a learning day, in a game and in training as well.”

It’s clearly a project worth sticking with. Porter’s power is obvious and it translates into a threat with ball in hand and a strength in the tackle and that is all part of the expected package for your modern-day prop.

He has worked assiduously on his fitness and his workrate and his recovery takes him into the sea around Dublin Bay from time to time. It all helps when keeping pace with a Leinster side that seeks to play the game with intensity and at pace.

Maintaining that for 80-plus minutes in Marseille, where the temperature is expected to be touching 30 degrees come kick-off at the Stade Velodrome, will be a challenge in itself but the commitment to an all-round game is non-negotiable.

“It’s everyone, one to 15,” the 26-year old confirmed this week. “Sure you see Tadhg Furlong and how skillful he is so I am just trying to work my way up to be as skilful as him some day, I hope.”

Leinster’s task will become all the greater if Furlong fails to recover from the calf injury he suffered against Toulouse in the semi-final but then Porter will have enough to be getting on with given he will be packing down opposite the man-mountain that is Uini Atonio.

The pair went head to head for 53 minutes during the France-Ireland Six Nations clash in Paris earlier this year when the home side’s physicality in all areas caused untold problems but Leinster have bettered two physical sides in the last two rounds.

There is an obvious respect for La Rochelle but the reminder that Leinster are endowed with world-class talent of their own. Not just that but a brains trust that has worked assiduously on how to compete and conquer sides of greater bulk.

“Look, all we have to do is play smart,” said Porter. That's a huge thing about us. We might not be the biggest team in Europe but, hey, we have some of the smartest players in the world playing.

“We will be trying to keep the pace of the game high. That's something we really pride ourselves on. Hey, look, we know exactly how big those French packs are, that's something they use with their power game in their scrum and maul. We know exactly what to look for.”

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