Life without Mike Ross no longer such a daunting prospect for Leinster

Province and Ireland now well stocked in tighthead department

The tighthead conundrum. The previous Irish management hoped aloud in November 2010 that John Hayes would pack down at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand the following September.

But the end, when it comes, cannot be denied. Hayes made it to August with the pre-tournament warm-up against Scotland being the 107th and final Test in an incomparably durable career.

That's not to say Mike Ross won't return to the Leinster frontrow against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena but last Saturday's tighthead selections can be taken as an indication of the coaches' mindset.

Ross didn't fit into the high-tempo game plan designed to obliterate Castres. Marty Moore ruptured the first French scrum and a few more thereafter. Tadhg Furlong arrived to thunder over for his third try of the season.


Unbelievable job “Mike’s done an unbelievable job for the province over a number of years,” said Leinster coach Matt O’Connor afterwards


This has been true enough. The Cork man was signed from Harlequins in 2009 but it was only when Stan Wright followed Michael Cheika to Paris two years later that the road cleared.

“He gives you that stability and experience at setpiece,” O’Connor continued. “On the bigger stage, he has performed. It is a matter of the coaches sitting down and making the assessment in relation to what’s going to be important next week. If we feel that Mike’s going to be the guy to do that, we’d have full confidence in him.”

Ross, who turned 35 in December, has been forced to play deep into the last quarter of matches, mainly due to injuries to Moore and Nathan White. Especially for Ireland in November.

The decision to drop him was made by O'Connor. That doesn't mean Joe Schmidt will agree. Different priorities, different circumstances."If we think Mike is the best guy for us, we will pick him. If we think Tadhg or Marty are, we will pick them," said O'Connor.

Ross remains the Irish incumbent, having signed a one-year contract extension. He wanted two seasons. He got one. Same happened to Moore with Leinster, who clearly saw the value in waiting 12 months before the changing of the guard. But we might not have to wait that long. Moore looks the part in all areas of play. So does Furlong. Rodney Ah You, essentially White's understudy in Connacht, is a tremendously powerful man but seems to be inhaling fumes around the hour mark of most games.

Schmidt was not willing to test the true value of Ah You’s impact against South Africa or Australia. Either way, Leinster have made the first move in moving on.

“I thought Marty played well. Off the back of his shoulder injury he needed to get some game minutes under his belt so we could make the best assessment for next week.”

Moore does need game time but no coach considers giving a player “minutes” in the do-or-die scenario that is a January European ties. He was selected on merit.

The 23-man list to face Italy next month should be interesting. In November O’Connor preached caution with regard to Furlong’s promotion to the Ireland camp. But things have changed significantly in the interim.

Escape with credit

Made of Wexford granite, in his solitary 80-minute match this season against


down in Thomond Park he was one of the only Leinster men to escape with credit.

Moore already proved his worth during that vital last quarter at Stade de France in March.

White, having recently featured for the Connacht Eagles after elbow surgery, also comes back into consideration. So do Ah You and Stephen Archer but, as it currently stands, the pecking order is Moore, Furlong, Ross. In Leinster anyway.

There was once a time when Hayes was the only answer as Ross was forced over to London to earn a living.

At least that’s not the case anymore.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent