Ireland v South Africa
Saturday: Aviva Stadium, 5.30pm
Ireland have been forced to confront the reality that an underplayed Mike Ross is their only realistic option at tighthead prop when mighty South Africa visit the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.
That was the alarming conclusion drawn from comments made by Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss yesterday as he admitted the lack of experienced front row cover in the Irish provinces meant that first-choice Ross, 34, would have to “front up” against the world number two-ranked Springboks despite having not played for a month due to a groin injury.
Ross is on course to pass fit for Saturday’s sell-out Guinness Series opener, having trained yesterday at Ireland’s training base in Maynooth, with Kiss saying the Leinster front rower was “in a good place” after the morning workout at Carton House.
Yet, having not featured for the province since the Pro12 home defeat to his native Munster on October 4, and with Nathan White and Marty Moore ruled out through injury, head coach Joe Schmidt must effectively choose between a non-match fit Ross and undercooked alternatives such as Stephen Archer, Rodney Ah You and Tadgh Furlong who are not even guaranteed the number three jersey with their provinces. Munster’s Archer and Connacht’s Ah You have been capped but have not made a Test start between them and Kiss said of Ross: “The truth is he has got to front up for us and that is all there is to it... putting in as many minutes as he can. At some stage he has got to put them on the park.
“We just haven’t had the opportunity to give him the game time and he has done a fair bit of training, that is for sure, to work as hard as he can. You just have to bank that that is good enough.”
When put to him that Ross was the sort of player who needed a long run-in to get up to big-game intensity, Kiss was equally blunt.
“He has got one game to get into it this time and it’s a big one. That is all there is to it.
“One of the real pleasing factors over the last seven or eight days that we have had our camps is that he has had a major input into the whole scrummaging meetings, etc.
“He has worked with Feeky (scrum coach Greg Feek), he has done his little bits on the side when he hasn’t been able to do much (on the pitch) but he has given a massive insight into that.
“Possibly the other side of that, the fact that he has taken that little bit of leadership in it and is stepping up at the front of that even though he hasn’t been able to train fully up until the last couple of times, I think he is really on top of it. I’d imagine he is relishing the challenge.”
Kiss also addressed concerns surrounding hooker Rory Best (calf), fly-half Johnny Sexton (thigh) and full-back Rob Kearney (hamstring).
“Rory, the calf is still a bit tight but he did some light action so we’ll make a decision on Thursday to cover that. Johnny, he was in yesterday’s session and trained fully today so he is fine. Rob Kearney also. He’s in the same boat, he trained fully today. And Chris Henry and Rhys Ruddock, even though they sat out (on Monday) it was just more management and they trained fully today. Everything is coming into place at this point of time.”
Defence coach Kiss also admitted Ireland would have to hit their straps from the first whistle this November against a side of the quality of the Springboks and could not afford to save their best for the last game of the month as they did 12 months ago when running the All Blacks so close having first lost to Australia, then stuttered for long periods against Samoa.
“Australia gave us a lesson because we weren’t on the money. So it has been a focus for us to make sure in this Guinness Series that we do start on the front foot, in the right mental space, in the right technical and tactical place. “We have to be technically accurate and really good around the contact area with and without the ball. We know they’re a massively physical team, and with their physicality they’ve also got more width in their game now, so it’s going to be a massive challenge. The boys know what’s required and expected.”
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