Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Six Nations

Ireland v Italy Six Nations: Introduction of new faces is a lift for us all, Mike Ross

By David Kelly

Only Beatles producer George Martin, who passed away yesterday, could have persuaded an exposed, fearful 22-year-old Paul McCartney to introduce a string quartet to add a little "something" to the ballad lying before them.

'Yesterday' was born. A different pressure.

Sometimes life is about taking a risk. Sometimes, when change is impelled by fate, it can be tempting to revert to type rather than continue into the unknown.

For Ireland in this Six Nations, change has been forcibly induced rather than implemented by choice; the World Cup ended for this reason, so it appears few lessons have been learned.

Ireland still cannot win a match in this tournament; at least some new blood and a belatedly new approach to how the sport is played has cheered some Irish hearts.

And yet the pressure to conform, to resist, remains within the squad despite the mostly supportive, enthusiastic public clamouring for more youth, vigour and brio in how the football is used.

A recently retired player speaks ominously as Ireland prepare to face an Italy side to whom they have lost just once this millennium - "repercussions", "suffocating", "pressure" and "horrible feeling" all get a mention.

Against Italy! Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier and Ulsterman Stuart McCloskey felt none of the above in the Twickenham defeat yet only one may be retained this week; any pressure or resistance to change seems to be self-imposed.

Mike Ross was once a victim of this resistance; he had to wait until his 30th year to become an overnight success for Ireland thanks to the conservative and exclusionist selection policy of the IRFU.

The two major injuries of his career have prompted Ireland to suffer catastrophic collapses yet still the country has no palpable, coherent succession policy in his position.

Tighthead is a microcosm of Ireland's historic failure to plan for the future. Tadhg Furlong, who needs time to fail in a green jersey, was given barely none. Now Ireland could make the same mistake with the 'Twickenham three', despite their instant impact in a losing squad. Ross appreciates the impetus they introduced.

"You see these guys coming into the set-up, they're new and excited. They're also a bit nervous and you want them to integrate quickly but you also know that they deserve their chance," he said.

"You're excited for them because it brings back memories of your first cap. You want them to have positive memories of that first cap and unfortunately it wasn't to be for them."

If these three managed the transition so easily, why can't more?

"A couple of them will have been in and out of camps so they will have had an idea of what is going on," he noted. "It's not like you took guys from outside the set-up and dumped them in. It's not as simple as that because there is a lot to take on board.

"It's like learning a different language. Going from your province to your country, there are lots of different calls. You'd be doing them a disservice to just jump somebody in."

Ross is inside the tent so is not expected to heed the public's every whim; albeit, his recent injury absence compelled him to share it.

As Ireland lost in Paris, with accompanying Ross-less creaking scrum, the 36-year-old's wife Kimberley had unwittingly scheduled his son's birthday for the same time.

For Ross, watching some of the game with like-minded but more detached fans was an interesting experience.

"There's not really much you can do," he said. "You are probably watching it a bit more analytically than most. You know yourself what is supposed to be happening.

"You would be like 'is he doing his role here? Is he going where he is supposed to be? What play is this? What are they doing here?'.

"You would have more of an idea what's coming next."

He expects Ireland, new blood or not, to be better against Italy.

An hour before he laid down 'Yesterday', McCartney had sung 'I'm Down', little knowing that he would soon reach unprecedented heights.

Had he feared failure, he could never have done so.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph