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Ulster boss pays tribute as Leinster ace Ross reveals the curtain is closing on his career

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss has hailed Mike Ross' dedication after the Ireland and Leinster prop announced his retirement yesterday.

The 37-year-old will hang up his boots at the end of this season having enjoyed a trophy-laden, eight-year spell at the RDS Arena that included winning two Heineken Cups, two PRO12 titles and a Challenge Cup.

It was over the course of his 61 Ireland caps that Kiss, defence coach for the national side between 2009 and 2015, got to know the Cork native, however.

Coming late to the international scene after a spell with Harlequins in England, Ross only made his Test debut at the age of 29 but was a regular under both Declan Kidney and Joe Schmidt.

And Kiss could hardly have spoken higher of the man who succeeded in the seemingly impossible task of replacing John Hayes in the green No.3 jersey.

"I'm really fond of Rossy," said Kiss.

"You talk about all the great players that you come up against, the O'Connells, the O'Garas, the O'Driscolls, the list goes on when you've coached them, but Rossy was someone who had to work really hard on his game away from the scrum.

"I admire him for that because he wasn't a natural born athlete around the park, but he worked. He was exceptional to work with.

"I can remember three or four massive occasions when the opposition thought they could expose him but he would just get an arm out and grab that piece of jersey to make the tackle and save the day.

"A lot of those plays were unseen but he worked hard for those moments and that's why he survived as long as he did after a late start in the Test arena.

"That's on the back of his pure desire to become better around the park. He worked really hard.

"He wasn't perfect but I really admire him. I've a lot of time for him."

With Leinster sitting top of the Guinness PRO12 table, Ross is keen to add one more medal to his collection before he plays his last game but, looking back, he admitted his career had already been an unforgettable journey.

"Rugby has been a huge part of my life, and I've been incredibly lucky to have been a part of some amazing teams," Ross told Leinster's official website.

"In particular, I will never forget winning the European Cup in 2011 or the Six Nations Championship in 2014.

"I never dreamt, having had such a late start in the professional game, that I would go on to achieve such goals, or win 61 caps for Ireland.

"I am indebted to my team-mates and coaches, my friends and family."

Paying tribute to Ross, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen added: "Mike has played such a major role in Leinster's successes since he joined from Harlequins.

"He was at the very heart of Leinster's famous comeback against Northampton in the 2011 European Cup final with a brilliant second-half scrummaging display that helped turn the tide of momentum.

"And the following season he played a huge role once again as the Leinster scrum pushed (European Cup final opponents) Ulster off their own ball in the first half that led to a try.

"Mike has also been a great mentor to some of our younger props, always being prepared to pass on his experience to ensure their continued development."

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