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RBS 6 Nations: Mike Ross hoping to pack a punch

By Niall Crozier

Ireland tight-head Mike Ross really enjoys scrummaging. In addition to the raw physicality of the contest, he relishes trying to out-think opponents rather than merely seeking to out-muscle them.

Thinking prop-forwards? Whatever next?

This afternoon's RBS 6 Nations showdown against Wales at the Aviva Stadium (2.30pm) will provide him with opportunities to test himself against a trio of British and Irish Lions in Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones (pictured). Now that's food for thought.

Tellingly, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has reminded Ross and co of the quality of their back-line colleagues and of their role as providers of decent ball those players can exploit.

Ross admitted: "The pressure is on us, on the pack, to step up and deliver a good platform for him (Schmidt), so there probably is a focus on it during camp."

In last weekend's championship opener against Italy in Cardiff, Wales were penalised several times at scrum-time by Irish referee John Lacey. Ross had a degree of sympathy for the red-shirted offenders, however.

"Watching the Welsh scrum the other day against Italy, they conceded a few penalties. Some of them I'd argue, but that's what you get with refereeing these days. Some days you won't get calls your way and some days you will," said Ross, who today wins his 36th international cap.

He and Welsh counterpart Jones are the cornerstones of their respective packs and Ross was keen to highlight the impact on the job of tight-heads as a result of this season's changes to the laws on scrummaging.

"If you think about it, especially with props with more experience like myself and Adam, for eight or 10 years you've been training on the hit and chase," Ross said. "Now that's gone.

"So you have to... I won't say start from scratch, but you take a step back and certainly we've been working hard on that over the last few months."

Nor is that the full extent of the difficulties which have arisen as a result of the law-change.

Ross continued: "It's not just the hit that's gone out of it, it's what foot placement suits you, what's the optimum height, how are you best going to transmit the power?

"I can probably see the hit going out of it completely the way things are going.

"So it's just about what do we do?"

After a lengthy monologue on the technical details of modern-day scrummaging technique, the press corps wanted something a little more succinct, something with which non-front row warriors and non-scrum anoraks could identify.

Ross delivered by saying: "At the start I found it a bit of a change, yeah. I mean, it's something you've been doing for eight or nine years and now the hit and chase has disappeared and you have to adjust to a new way.

"So I think I've done that successfully. It's something I've worked bloody hard on because you can't afford to be a weak link – you need to work on it."

With old dogs like himself and Jones – 34 and a month shy of 33 respectively – being forced to learn these new tricks, has this handed up-and-coming players like Martin Moore and Stephen Archer a huge advantage?

"Yeah, well, it has been a playing field leveller if you think about it because you're back on the same level," Ross said.

However, he promptly qualified that by adding: "Well, not completely, because you (we) do have years of experience, you (we) do have little tricks.

"Adam (Jones) has a fair few of them – at least he should do by now!

"For years you've been training to get on the balls of your feet and chase hard, and generally the scrum is over in a couple of seconds. Now you have to stay in the fight and work really hard to keep the scrum up and stay straight, otherwise things go badly for you."

Asked if having had to adapt at this stage of his career had given him fresh impetus, Ross replied: "It's a new challenge, you know? You'd think by now you could rest on your laurels, but that's not the case.

"It's just been a fresh challenge and I've found it quite interesting. Certainly you put a lot more premium on making sure every little bit (is right) – your shoulders are the same height, you're squeezing down, your feet in the optimum position, your legs aren't too far forward – so you can transmit power better.

"It's a new challenge and one I've enjoyed."

Now when all is said and done, the scrum's primary purpose remains the provision of possession. That is something Ross appreciates, a point he made by saying: "I like a scrum as much as the next man.

"At the same time, we've a very good back-line and it would be a shame not to use them, especially the type of game Joe wants us to play.

"The weather conditions might mitigate against some of the expansive moves. But, if you've got a good set of backs, you want to use them."

In agreeing with that sentiment, today every Irish supporter will hope to see the ball put through hands rather than lost in an interminable scrum.

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