Tuesday 17 July 2018

Ross fears a backlash

Blues prop calls for strong performance to end Sarries threat

It has been said in the game of chess that the strategy requires thought, and the tactics require observation. The power of thinking and the subtlety of watching.

Benjamin Franklin went a step further in his observations on the game, stressing the need for players to have foresight, circumspection and caution.

As the Leinster team depart for London this afternoon, they do so in the knowledge that their opponents will bring a fevered frenzy after their disappointment in Clermont-Ferrand last weekend.

It's exactly the kind of occasion that Mike Ross and the Leinster pack relish. Ross knows about the power of preparation and fluency. Since his 2009 move from Harlequins he has craved the chance to get a regular run of games under his belt. Since week one of this season, his form has improved steadily week by week.

The Cork born tight-head prop believes that Leinster will need to go up another notch if they are to achieve victory in Wembley Stadium this weekend.

"Sarries are a fairly physical side", Ross reflected ahead of the Pool 2 showdown. "Any time I've watched them it is clear that they match their physicality with a mobile running game.

"Deon Carstens and Carlos Nieto are two strong props, and in Schalk Brits they have a very good hooker who plays like a centre and will ask questions of our defence.

"With a strong South African influence in their set-up, they play like a lot of the South African (Super 15) sides, and we're expecting a hard-running battle against a side who can play a bit as well."

Ross understands the passion of English rugby from his time at The Stoop, and he's aware of the tribal warfare which will emanate from minutes one to 80 tomorrow evening in northwest London.

"Wembley is a fantastic stadium. I've been there a couple of times and it's just massive," said Ross. "I haven't played there before so it'll be an exciting test for the team. Growing up I wasn't that big a football fan, so it was never a case for me dreaming of scoring the winning goal there or anything.

"But the resonance and the history of the stadium aren't lost on me and it's an exciting departure for the Heineken Cup and for our supporters who I'm sure will thrive going over there.


"During my time over in England, games against Saracens were always physical battles and invariably they were won and lost up front. If you win the collisions up front (then) that's half the battle, but they have definitely strengthened their squad since I returned home and they're a really consistent team with pace and power."

If football wasn't Ross' favourite pastime as a youngster, what was? "I was more into American Football and I saw an NFL game in Wembley a few years back. I like American Football. It's just like chess ... with humans!"

Growing up he admired the physicality of South African Os Du Randt and watched with interest his titanic battles on the British & Irish Lions tour with former Leinster prop Paul Wallace, another hero.

"Os was close to the complete prop because he had everything that you'd expect from a front-rower and his work-rate and power were second to none. Closer to home, I admired Paul Wallace for his achievements and he consistently did a fantastic job for Ireland."

It's fair to say that the physical confrontational nature of the sport probably appeals to the former St Colman's pupil, who almost capped off a fine performance with his first try in Leinster colours in the 38-22 win over Racing-Métro 92.

He smiles ruefully at the thought, but was delighted with the overall effort by the pack. The analysis sessions this week in the hub of Leinster Rugby certainly made for interesting viewing as Leinster bid to take on the men from the English capital.

"We knew that we had to be aggressive and try to assert ourselves early on against Racing and we managed to do that. We knew that if we didn't front up that it was going to be a long, long afternoon, so we were really happy with our scrums and lineouts, which went well. And we matched their physicality, which was the winning of the game for us.

"It has helped having a run of games this season, which does a lot for your sharpness and match fitness. You don't really get match fit until you've had three or four games under your belt. It was unfortunate that there have been injuries to the likes of Stan (Wright) and Ronan (McCormack) but it has given me an opportunity to play."


Despite Sarries' defeat to Clermont Auvergne, there were signs of threat and danger etched across their performance which, Ross believes, Leinster will need to be mindful of.

Kasparov, one of the world's great chess players, once observed; "Sometimes the hardest thing to do in a pressure situation is to allow the tension to persist. The temptation is to make a decision, any decision, even if it is an inferior choice."

There's a resonance between the aspiration and the will to win. The talking now has been done. Tomorrow it's all about action.

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