WHETHER OR NOT Andrew Porter makes his senior international debut tomorrow night in New Jersey, his inclusion in Joe Schmidt’s squad and subsequently the matchday panel is an indication of his meteoric rise.
Twelve months ago, the 21-year-old was in Manchester with Nigel Carolan’s U20s as they made history by beating the All Blacks en route to a first-ever Junior World Championship final.
Porter was a central figure for Ireland during that campaign — he was named in the team of the tournament — but even still the idea of him making the step-up just one season after would have been fanciful at best.
But it speaks volumes that he is where he is this week, preparing for an international Test match off the back of a first full season at Leinster during which he made eight appearances.
There is huge excitement surrounding Porter’s ability and certainly Schmidt recognises that, naming him on the bench for Saturday’s first Test of the summer tour against USA at the Red Bull Arena.
Should he come on, Porter will do so with the number 18 on his back after switching sides to tighthead during the course of last season, a move orchestrated by John Fogarty with Leinster’s strength in-depth at loosehead no doubt the reason behind it.
It remains to be seen what his best long-term position will be but already Porter is reaping the short-term rewards of the switch and could cap a remarkable 12 months with the ultimate honour this weekend.
His career has been on such an upward trajectory since that it’s easy to forget he only burst onto the scene last June. His power is frightening and an ability to destroy opposition scrums and a penchant for bruising hits makes Porter stand out. The UCD man’s talent may still be a little raw, but he is a superb prospect and Schmidt knows it.
Leinster do too and the province rewarded him with a senior contract after just one year in the academy set-up to accelerate his development into a potentially world-class operator.
Pulling on the green jersey would be another significant juncture on a journey which started off at St Andrew’s College and certainly Porter recognises the role the school and its rugby programme played in his evolution.
In an interview with Rugby World Magazine in April, Porter said his father, Ernest, who first introduced him to the game at five, and David Jones, the strength and conditioning coach at St Andrew’s, have had the biggest influences on his career.
And it would be another hugely proud moment for Jones and St Andrew’s should Porter, like fellow alumnus Felix Jones, go on to represent Ireland at senior international level.
“Producing players capable of playing professional rugby is a very significant achievement for a school like St Andrew’s College,” Jones tells The42.
“We are a co-educational, multi-sport school and as a result we have small numbers of students playing rugby in comparison to our competition.
“This means we have to ensure the delivery of coaching and S&C programmes are of the highest quality and we also aim to develop the whole person and not just the player you see on the pitch so academic progress is also extremely important.”
Weighing in at more than 125kg, the powerful prop is known for his freakish ability in the gym and certainly he has always had all the physical attributes to cut his teeth in the front row.
Jones recalls the first time he came across Porter, as a first year student back in August 2008, and his commitment to all sports, not just rugby, as well as an unflinching desire to learn, train and get better.
“I first met Andrew as an incoming first year attending our annual rugby induction day for our new intake of students,” Jones explains.
“I was to oversee the U13 age group that year and from that first day the other coaches and I realised we were looking at a very promising squad of players with Andrew and Greg (Jones) standing out early.
“I guess what stands out most for me is Andrew’s commitment for the six years he was with us. He was first on the pitch at training, usually the last to leave, and he was always looking to improve as a player.
“As part of the S&C programme I place a big emphasis on nutrition and meal planning and Andrew was the standard by which all other students were judged and in some cases still are.
“He always had plastic containers with meals for all occasions and my advice to younger students with regard to nutrition for rugby was (and still is) invariably ‘be more like Porter!”
“I recall one sixth year PE class during the off season where Andrew was deadlifting and pulling heavy single reps. By the end of the session, because our gym at the time had mainly thick rubber bumper plates, we had literally run out of space on the bar for more weight.
“As Andrew casually pulled 260kg (secured on the bar with bands — no room for collars) with ease off the floor I was already budgeting in my head for more of the thinner cast iron plates. We were literally running out of weights.”
There are no such problems now for Porter, who was this week pictured showing his scarcely believable strength to his new Ireland team-mates in the gym at the Stevens Institute in New Jersey.
It’s a long way from those early days in the St Andrew’s gym but that in itself makes his journey all the more compelling and hugely rewarding for those who have played their part along the way.
“I will be delighted to see all the hard work that Andrew has put in come to fruition and I know the whole St Andrews community is incredibly proud of his achievements and is looking forward to watching his career unfold,” Jones added.
“It has been a privilege for me to have played a small part in the development of the Andrew Porter you see today.”
Jones won’t be the only one watching Ireland’s number 18 closely if he is sprung from the bench on Saturday night.
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