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Friday 14 December 2018

Improved Ross to face ultimate test

"You don't count the minutes. You make the minutes count."

These worthy words, carefully chosen by Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes, reflect how he has been taken with the way tight-head Mike Ross has grown into his position as scrum leader in the long-term absence of the injured Stan Wright.

Ross will have to be at his best in the Magners League on Friday night when the 'mother of all battles' is promised for Leinster's showdown with the Ospreys at The RDS.

The Corkman had to wait in what must have felt like a static line last year behind the frequently injured World Cup winner CJ van der Linde and the valuable dual purpose prop Wright.

The Springbok left for more familiar pastures in the summer and the Cook Islander sustained a horror Achilles tendon rupture in a pre-season friendly against London Wasps back in August.

The short-term signings of Ballymena's Simon Shawe, Nottingham's Ben Prescott and New Zealander Clint Newland have not had the required effect. Ross has had to carry almost all the load as the cornerstone.

"Rossy has made his minutes count a lot more this year. Stan's injury has provided a hell of a lot of work for Mike. But, he is a resilient sort of guy and he has added a lot more (to his game)," said Gibbes.

"He and Greg Feek (scrum coach) have got on pretty well. He has used his experience and a few tools that Feekie has brought. He is enjoying his scrummaging."

From the start, Ross was seen as a square peg in a round hole in that he was an old style, set-piece prop without the varied-skills favoured by former coach Michael Cheika.

"He still gets challenged with other things in his game. But, I think you have seen an improvement in those areas as well," admitted Gibbes.

The ultimate test of scrum stability could happen if Wales international props Adam Jones and the vastly improved Paul James, assisted by hooker Richard Hibbard, form the Ospreys' front row.

It is this fiercely competitive three that destroyed Munster's scrum in the Heineken Cup just two weeks ago.

The fact is Munster would have beaten the Ospreys that day at The Liberty Stadium if Wian du Preez, Damien Varley and Tony Buckley had been able to perform their basic duties at the scrum.

Gibbes knows how they felt. He experienced a similar deflation when the Ospreys stunned Leinster in the Magners League Grand Final last May. It was a moment of anxiety and anger he will not want to repeat this season.

"A whole year's work was lost in one 80 minute game. My frustration was the year's work we had put in. We lost two back rowers, had to move Richardt (Strauss) over to the side (of the scrum). We didn't get to show our full wares," he said.

It will be a night of redemption or recrimination for Leinster. It is all pointing towards a rip-roaring, old fashioned push-of-war between two solid scrummaging forward packs.

Just the way it was meant to be. Once upon a time.

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