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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Mike Ross: I thought I was gone but Joe still has faith in me

Mike Ross
Mike Ross

It must have come like a call from a long, lost friend.

Mike Ross had received a one-year contract extension when he wanted two. He had found him outside the Leinster squad when he wanted inside. It was a time for contemplation.

Did it enter his mind that he had played his last for Ireland? "Of course it did," he said.

"That's how you get into an Ireland squad in the first place, generally, by playing well for your province and that gets you into the team."

Around then, the phone rang out. It was Joe Schmidt. It was good news.

"He rang me up and said 'look, you're still in the frame, so keep training, training well, and we'll see what happens in camp'".

He was down, but not out.

He had the remedy inside of him. He just had to get back to doing what he has done for so long.

Now, the 35-year-old has clawed his way back to the Six Nations, not because someone has fallen, but because he has risen again.

"I think with Joe I have a bit of credit in the bank with him," he said.

"I have a loan of the jersey for this week and I have to pay it back and see if I can get it again the following week.

"I've been given this opportunity and I really have to repay the faith that has been shown in me."

Ross has not been immune from the axe. He came to the professional game late and understands the environment he works in.

"It's not always going to be roses forever. You have to take the rough with the smooth.

"It's how you mentally respond to those and whether you come back from them is up to yourself.

"As your career goes on, you gain experience from it. It's not the first time I've been dropped.

"That happened to me when I started out at Leinster with Cheika and I came back from that.

"You know it is not going to go on forever but you need to make the most of the opportunities you get. And enjoy it too.

"Rugby is ultimately 10-15 years of your life and you really have to make the most of it."

There is that trust between Schmidt and Ross that when that crunch moment comes, a 5-metre scrum from your own line with a hostile crowd baying for your carcus this tight-head will stand his ground.

Afterall, it wasn't much over a year ago Ross was seen as Ireland's current day version of John Hayes, a foundation stone without which the Ireland scrum would buckle.

"I came through the November internationals pretty well and then the scrum had a tough time against Harlequins. I probably suffered selection-wise from that one.

"The scrum was good against Ulster and I thought it was pretty good for The Wolfhounds game. It was something I refocused on. You have to keep working on your own strengths.

"You can't completely abandon what gets you there in the first place."

Schmidt was quick to talk about how Ireland's set-piece was the best in the Six Nations last year.

You are going nowhere without the platform from scrum, maul and lineout.

That has been the burden Ross has carried all the way through into what will be his 45th Ireland cap.

"I don't think there's any more pressure that there usually would be," he thought.

"Any time you put on the green jersey, you have to deliver. This will be no different."

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