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Rugby World Cup: Durable Mike Ross has faith in front row to deliver

By Jonathan Bradley

Choosing whether to select Jack McGrath or a fit-again Cian Healy to fill the loosehead jersey for tomorrow's World Cup contest with Italy will have been one of Joe Schmidt's big selection dilemmas and Mike Ross has said that the depth in Ireland's front-row is now a real boost to the squad.

After stellar work over the last year McGrath got the nod but starting tighthead Ross believes that whoever is selected on the other side of the scrum is more than capable of making an impact.

"It's an immense source of confidence to know whether it's Cian or Jack, you're going to have an equally proficient prop in there.

"We have complete faith in each other that no matter who's picked they'll deliver for us

"The fact that we have the luxury of having the full front-row replacements on the bench means that you just go as hard as you can for as long as you can. If you start flagging, there's a guy waiting to come on and pick it up.

"You know yourself that you have a strong bench and you want to use it. We're always kind of going towards an opener and a closer almost.

"You've got your stereotypical impact players but I mean the way it has gone, it's very hard for front-rows to keep going for 80 minutes."

Despite such depth, tomorrow will mark a 24th start for Ross in Schmidt's 26 Tests, a real testament to the durability of a man who will turn 36 before the end of the year.

"Ah, Joe just doesn't like me off the bench," he quipped.

"I always joke that if you just don't carry the ball you won't get injured. I suppose I've been lucky, but at the same time I came to professionalism late so it's not like I've been doing this since I was 19 or 20.

"I was 26 so I had a bit more time to mature as a player before I started taking the big professional sized hits so I think that's helped.

"It's a nice record to have. It's far better than the alternative so hopefully he'll keep picking me, but I have to hold up my end of the bargain too."

With all his experience, the Cork native knows just what to expect at the Olympic Stadium against an Italian pack that has been boosted by the return of captain Sergio Parisse.

"For the Italians the scrum is like their mojo - if the scrum isn't going well then they suffer, the effects are going to be seen throughout the team.

"When it's going well and they're on top and they're winning penalties, they seem visibly boosted by it and listening to the ref audio, next time they have a scrum you hear a big scream out of them and they try and walk over the ball. They're all slapping each other, Parisse is giving them socks.

"Yeah, it's a big area for them, it's something they're proud of and rightly proud of for a long time."

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