Andrew Porter enjoys a frontrow seat and is happy to go back to the future

Dominant packs, like South Africa’s, love to leave a calling card by keeping the ball in a scrum: no respite, no relief

There is a gentle interest in how players prepare ahead of Test matches, how they inoculate against pressure by seeking refuge in routine. Few will deviate from whatever method calms the mind as well as the body.

For Andrew Porter, that’s house cleaning, a blitz on the day of a match. Obviously, that relates to him being at home. He hasn’t yet tried to spruce up any hotel rooms. It’s a distraction. Another is his college work. When he was younger, he occasionally became overstimulated thinking about matches. Now he’s more in control.

“Sometimes I’ll try and take my mind off it completely and I’ll pick at it, at moments, with my visualisation and my mindfulness to keep myself calm because you can get nervous in these situations.”

He sought advice. “I remember sitting down with Churchy [Cian Healy] one day. He doesn’t even listen to music. I would struggle to go to a game without my headphones because I need something in my ear. He is the calmest ever before a game, so I took a lot from him and not over-exerting yourself before you have to.”


There are several certainties in life, death, taxes, and South African packs populated by some of the biggest physical specimens that rugby has to offer. The latest Springbok eight is no exception and will present a benchmarking process for their Ireland counterparts.

Destabilising the opposing set-piece is a good starting point for any team and Ireland have been on the receiving end occasionally in this respect, notably against England. It’s hardly a hidden agenda for the Springboks. Scrum and lineout dominance are near and dear to the core of their rugby philosophy.

Everyone knows what’s coming, negating that threat, well that’s another kettle of Cape Stumpnose. It’s not just the physical assault. Dominant packs love to leave a calling card, break down the opposition mentally, by keeping the ball in a scrum, no respite, no relief.

“You see it with the French, a lot of big physical teams will try to sap your energy through the set-piece. It’s like an arm wrestle, who can outlast who? That’s the thing we’re looking forward to, that mental battle as well as the physical one because it’s a psychological thing as well when you’re leaving the ball in the scrum, you’re basically saying, ‘okay, try and have a go’,” says Porter.

There are very few interviews that go by without Porter being asked about the decision to switch back to loosehead where he played during his formative years after a spell at tighthead. The obvious advantage was having him on the pitch and not on the bench. He took a little persuading when the coaches broached the subject initially.

Was Tadhg Furlong’s relative youth a factor in his decision? “Yeah, cos he [Furlong] is the best prop in the world, the best tighthead and what the coaches kept on telling me was that we want you on the pitch at the same time.

“We don’t want you competing for a spot, but then in my head [I was thinking], I have to compete with Cian Healy and a load of quality looseheads. So that was my reservation at the time. But then I saw it as a challenge and another thing to overcome.

“You always have doubts at the start of it, but I had great support from all the coaches, and I started out at loosehead at underage and U20s and that gave me a bit more confidence in the decision. I felt things were going so well [at tighthead] at the time and I did have reservations about moving back.

“I broke my foot just before the Lions tour and I went back and thought things over, thought about where I was in my career. Given how relatively young I am for a prop, I had time to make the decision. I wasn’t pushed to make [it] quickly.”

In mentioning Furlong, he recalls the part his Leinster team-mate had in the build-up to the second Test against New Zealand during the summer, a match about which Porter will have many fond memories, including scoring a brace of tries and in so doing doubling his international tally.

“I remember that week [of the second Test] Tadhg Furlong led a meeting. He made everyone rethink everything about what happened in the first Test [when] we were looking at video; he was just such a good motivator. He is an incredible player, and he backs up what he says off the field.

“He just instils confidence in players. In terms of the scrum, Tadhg is like Mike Ross, a scrum nerd, he loves it, so it is incredible how we were able to turn that around in the space of a week. That is why I am excited about this week seeing what we can put out there.”

It’ll be an interesting watch and one that will have to suffice until the teams meet again on the green fields of France.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer