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Sunday 17 December 2017

Mike Ross will stay ahead of pack

Moore and Furlong down pecking order for Blues' No 3 jersey

Coach Matt O'Connor sees the race for Leinster's number three jersey as a live three man contest.

In Joe Schmidt's opinion, Ireland's Mike Ross had just about held off Martin Moore for the green jersey last season with Moore having a lot more room for improvement as a relative novice to first class rugby.

Ross and Moore were out at Ireland's camp in Carton House where their Canterbury kit for the season was launched yesterday.

Just when the 23-year-old was moving up beside Ross, the 21-year-old Tadhg Furlong has appeared out of somewhere - not nowhere - to turn a dual into a three-man tournament.

"You wouldn't say that there is an out-and-out first choice or second choice, at the moment," said O'Connor.

"There are bits and pieces in all their games that are very, very good and there's other bits they need to work on. It is a great position for us to be in.

"But, at the same time, there is an opportunity there for the blokes that stick up their hand and take their opportunity."

It wasn't that long ago - one season, in fact - that Ross was seen as the John Hayes of his time with, literally, the physical pressure of his country weighing heavy on his shoulders with no obvious second choice at Ireland.

The fear of what might happen were Ross to get injured prompted Leinster to sign tight-head Michael Bent from New Zealand in 2012. Ireland capped him almost immediately.

In the meantime, Bent has dropped well down the pecking order behind all three and has been moved across to loose-head where he is third best to Cian Healy and Jack McGrath.

The very fact Ross cornered the national scrum for so long stands to him and coaches O'Connor and Schmidt will surely stand by their man as long as he can show form.

"The thing about Rossy is that he's proven when the big moments come he's been very, very good for us and for Ireland. He's done it. He's got that in the bank," said O'Connor.

"He's got to keep doing it because those two young boys are very, very hungry to get that slot".

O'Connor agrees there is "definitely" a chance for Moore and/or Furlong to make up the ground that separates them from Ross, with Moore ranked number two at present.

Moore has been given a long and trying pre-season in order to get into the best physical shape of his life. He is the only fit Ireland international in the Leinster squad who has not played rugby this season.

This speaks volumes about how important he is to Schmidt's plans. He has been kept on a tight leash on the Player Welfare Programme in order to preserve his stamina through to the 2015 World Cup.

"Marty is playing this week," said O'Connor.

"He's trained very, very well. Rossy and Tadhg have been doing a good job for us. We're looking for him to be really good for us".

There is pressure on Moore to make up the leeway to Ross and to keep Furlong at bay, the latter possibly one run of games away from getting his confidence in the scrum up to where it has to be.

Thereafter, the sky is the limit for Furlong as a gifted footballer who thrives on Leinster's tempo game and is more than a match for Moore outside the set-piece defence.

At the moment, Ross heads Moore with Furlong in behind.

That could all change by the end of this season.

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