Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Porter advanced his selection cause against Italy.
# prop star
Full circle and a stiff neck for Porter as he stakes claim as utility prop
Three years after starring for Ireland U20 as a loosehead, the Leinster prop returned to the position.

FOR ANDREW PORTER, the second half of Ireland’s World Cup warm-up win over Italy must have felt like the completion of a circle as much as a prelude to bigger days ahead.

The powerful Leinster prop was set loose for all of 70 minutes against Conor O’Shea’s side.

For one half he played tighthead, the position where all his previous professional rugby has been played. His second half was spent as a loosehead, the position he shone so brightly in as a bull-dozing U20.

Back then, the former St Andrew’s College man was progressing nicely in the number 1 shirt, but with Mike Ross hanging up his boots and Cian Healy and Jack McGrath still duelling for starting orders with both Leinster and Ireland, his provincial scrum coach John Fogarty (recently appointed as the IRFU’s national academy forwards coach) encouraged him to switch to the dark side.

Andrew Porter James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

And so, two and a half years on from his first experience packing down as a tighthead in the light blue of UCD, Saturday afternoon saw Porter back on the loosehead side making a strong case for inclusion in Joe Schmidt’s 31-man World Cup squad.

“I was a bit rusty,” Porter said post-match, with a barrell chest still sucking in air.

“I haven’t played a game at loosehead since, jeez I don’t know how long. It’s something I work on, to be as versatile as I can over in Japan if I get picked.

The neck is a bit stiffer than it would usually be. I’ll get used to it again and get doing it more in training.”

Places will be tight in every area of the field, and conventional wisdom shows that there is room for just five props to travel. Two specialists on either side of the scrum and a versatile option who can cover number 1 and 3 – positions where Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong are immovable objects of late.

Schmidt earmarked Connacht’s Finlay Bealham and Munster’s John Ryan as his other contenders to be a utility prop. And though the latter was sent on to replace McGrath as early as half-time, Schmidt offered plenty of praise the way of Ulster’s new signing in order to leave the door open for him.

“We were really happy with Jack’s first half, to be honest,” Schmidt said.

“He got up off the line and made some good impact tackles. And Jack, for us, is very good around our attacking breakdown as well.

“We wanted to shift Andrew Porter across and give him 20 minutes there, because the reality is in the World Cup, you’re going to have to have one prop who can play either side. Potentially maybe even two.”

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