THE FORTHCOMING NOVEMBER Tests against South Africa, Georgia and Australia represent an exciting test to Ireland’s depth in the propping positions, according to scrum coach Greg Feek.
First-choice loosehead Cian Healy is absent, while incumbent tighthead Mike Ross has been sidelined recently with a groin problem and the expected date of his return remains unconfirmed. Marty Moore is a confirmed absentee.
One might presume that such issues would leave Feek concerned ahead of facing the powerful, if technically vulnerable, Springboks front row on 8 November, but the former Leinster scrum guru is thinking positively.
It’s exciting as well, because you get to work with guys that you need to get up to speed quickly,” says Feek. “It gives us a chance to test the depth that we have and all those guys are raring to go.
“I suppose I look at it positively and try to make it work as we best can, also using the guys around to support that as well. The team is only as big as everyone working together, it’s not just one guy. Hopefully that in itself will aid these guys and when they go back to their provinces, they’ll bring more experience back for that too.”
Stephen Archer [two caps], Rodney Ah You [one] and Nathan White [uncapped] provide options if Ross does not recover to face South Africa, with the latter having made a strong impression within the Ireland camp.
The 33-year-old Kiwi native has an excellent CV that includes spells with the Chiefs and Leinster, as well as current province Connacht. Feek is looking forward to seeing White in an Ireland jersey.
“He’s got a lot of knowledge on a lot of the Southern Hemisphere guys, he’s played down there for a few years. He brings a massive work rate and I think that’s one of our prerequisites – to have guys in there who are going to work their butts off.
Nathan does that at scrum time and all round the paddock, his tackle stats are up there, Les [Kiss, defence coach] has been impressed. What he brings is getting on with it and he can lead. He’s been a captain of a Super 15 team and his leadership at Connacht is huge.
“He doesn’t talk too much, he just gets on with it. That’s a good thing and hopefully him being there with all those qualities, the Stephen Archers and Rodneys will learn from that and bank it.”
Feek disagrees with the notion that starting Archer or Ah You at tighthead in one of the November Tests would amount to throwing them in at the deep end. Instead, he points out that the less experienced front rows have earned any chances they are to get.
“Throwing in is probably the wrong term, it’s more ‘deservedly given a crack.’ We’re not just throwing them in there, they’re all working hard. You’ve also got Declan Fitzpatrick who’s just started to make a comeback.
“You’ve got Tadhg Furlong who’s chipping away at Leinster, Michael Bent as well. Hopefully Mike Ross can come back from injury, but this does help the stocks, it does help the depth. It’s going to be good for them, this series.”
On the loosehead side, Jack McGrath has overcome a calf issue and will likely start in the number one shirt against the Boks, but Dave Kilcoyne of Munster is in fine form.
An ankle injury to James Cronin has been badly timed, although the hope is that he will still play some part in next month’s Tests.
As we wait for the three fixtures in Dublin to assess the quality of Ireland’s propping depth, Feek is more than confident that his players will cope and thrive.