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Six Nations Rugby: Mike Ross won't cheat against Wales


Safe approach: Mike Ross believes risking a yellow card for carrying out an illegal practice on the field just isn’t worth the consequences

Safe approach: Mike Ross believes risking a yellow card for carrying out an illegal practice on the field just isn’t worth the consequences

?INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Safe approach: Mike Ross believes risking a yellow card for carrying out an illegal practice on the field just isn’t worth the consequences

Boring has probably been the word of the 2015 Six Nations championship. Many of the matches have been boring. Ireland are boring. Wales are boring.

Much of the commentary about the boring matches has been quite boring, too.

With Wayne Barnes in charge - he dished out 26 penalties in his last game - few expect that Ireland's visit to Wales may offer much in the entertainment stakes.

Little wonder World Rugby trumpeted this week their keenness to accelerate rule changes as soon as feasible.

Mike Ross could be worth a phone call from the bureaucratic pointy-heads. The tighthead props union may be a minority voice but they have had enough of the "boring" word, too.

Except their application of the word is a tad different.

When the front-row grunts speak of "boring", they refer to the irksome and illegal practice of "boring in", when the loose-head drives at an angle towards the hooker and/or tighthead.

Wales' most capped player, Gethin Jenkins has long been celebrated as one of the best/worst exponents of the technique which, like the hindmost foot at ruck time, or midfield offside are predominantly ignored by officialdom.

Jenkins, however, has not been so lucky. In 12 years of international rugby he had been only yellow-carded once before; but last season he was binned three times in six Test matches.

He is not alone. Thomas Domingo did so against Ireland last season, the Italian prop Matias Aguero did so this term and Joe Marler was at it against Leinster and Ross in December.

None received sanction; all received plaudits from deluded commentators.

Since the hit was abolished, the practice is more frequent than ever but Ross is not fearful of Jenkins getting one over on him this weekend, particularly with fussy Barnes prepared to whistle.

"He mixes up what he does," says Ross. "He's a very experienced campaigner, Wales' most capped player ever so he has a lot of arrows in his armoury.

"He might come across me, he might stay there. It just depends what he's in the mood for that day. You always hope that if you're keeping a legal shape and your opponent doesn't, then the ref picks up on that.

"But it can be a difficult job for the referee to pick up on everything, so sometimes breaks don't always go your way and you deal with that."

As with other transgressions, it is a balance between the players getting away with as much illegality as possible while the referees struggle to keep up with their wiles.

Nigel Owens is one referee who has charged that the players are more guilty than the referees; Ross, for his part, stoutly defends his honour and claims that he is not a cheat.

"No! Greg Feek knocked that out of me a while ago," he strongly demurs. "When I was in the Premiership it was a case of anything goes as long as you're going forward.

"So the obvious one for a tighthead is to go in across the hooker, but if you don't get that right you're leaving yourself open for a world of pain. So the percentage move is to stay straight."

But even if he is pinged, is he not tempted to dump his code of honour?

"If you chuck that out the window and you try and be illegal, then you might get penalised again," he said. "We pride ourselves on our ball-retention. If you look back at last year's Six Nations, our scrum probably stayed up the most and we won the most percentage of ball.

"That was a huge factor in us winning the title.

"Don't get me wrong, I love to march forward and get the penalty. That's great. But at the same time if I have nowhere to go and have to do something illegal, it's not worth the percentages."

And Ireland play the percentages as amply demonstrated in all aspects of this season's title charge.

Ross was integral to last year's effort but has yet to taste the glory of a Grand Slam; 2009 passed him by as he subbed at Leinster.

And so he watched Ireland's dramatic win in Cardiff six years ago from the couch.

"Barnes was refereeing that match," he reminds us, as if few can forget the late penalty against Paddy Wallace.

"My heart was in my mouth when Stephen Jones stepped up to take that penalty. The only man happier than myself that he missed it was Paddy!

"Going over there is never an easy game. They've already lost one game at home and be sure they won't want to lose another."

Edging Marler last time out, in the context of his December travails, offers a firm boost. Leinster dropped him and many thought that Joe Schmidt might follow suit. Both have been vindicated.

"I knew if I kept Joe out then a lot of what he can do can be negated. It was better in the Six Nations than Europe," Ross concluded.

RBS Six Nations: Millennium Stadium, Saturday, 2.30pm



Belfast Telegraph