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Ross a vital figure for Ireland against the Boks as Ah You waits in the wings

The 34-year-old tighthead prop has proven his fitness to start against Heyneke Meyer’s men.

Ross' match fitness will be tested by 'The Beast' at scrum time.
Ross' match fitness will be tested by 'The Beast' at scrum time.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

HE MAY NOT be the most lauded figure in Irish rugby, but Mike Ross has been of immeasurable importance at tighthead prop for some time.

The 34-year-old has been the definition of solidity in a position where so many lack that exact attribute. Given Marty Moore’s current injury, getting Ross fit for Saturday’s Test against South Africa has been priority number one for Ireland’s medical staff this week.

The Leinster man missed his province’s clash with Castres in the Champions Cup two weekends ago, having struggled with a groin injury. Ross last played a match on the 4th of October, completing 44 minutes against Munster in the Pro12.

Having seen him take part in training all week, however, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt this afternoon explained his belief that the tighthead was ready to put in a heavy shift against the Boks.

Rodney Ah You is waiting in the wings as back-up, but against the scrummaging strength of Springboks loosehead Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, Ross is an essential figure for Ireland.

“Really confident,’ said Schmidt of Ross’ fitness. “Mike has trained well, particularly in the back end of this week. He’s taken a part in training from last Thursday, when he did a little bit. Then again from Monday, Tuesday on and he’s trained well.

Joe Schmidt speaking to Rodney Ah You Ah You is likely to earn his second Ireland cap on Saturday. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“I’d be confident, but I’m not sure because you’re never sure about anyone returning from injury.

“I’d like to think that he’s really well prepared. He’s done a lot of work off the pitch. I know there’s nothing like pitch conditioning, but he has certainly been tested cardiovascularly through the last couple of weeks, even if he hasn’t been training.”

Ah You has been given the nod ahead of Stephen Archer as the reserve in the tighthead slot, with Leinster’s Moore out with a shoulder injury.

The Connacht prop made an inauspicious debut for Ireland in Argentina last June, but has since been in impressive form under Pat Lam in the Pro12. Archer, meanwhile, has been gradually returning to his best after a run of injuries.

Rodney’s scrummaged really well,” explained Schmidt. “He did another really good job against the Ospreys last weekend and he did a great job against Glasgow. Those are the only measures we can judge by recently. The other thing with Rodney is that he’s fully fit.

“He’s had a couple more minutes than Stephen Archer. Stephen is back from that long-term injury and he’s gathering a bit of momentum, and that’s promising. But I think that we’ve got to go with what we think is the fittest team available that will cope in an environment that is going to be incredibly hostile.”

Rob Kearney has been a further injury doubt in recent times, having also missed Leinster’s Champions Cup clash against Castres. Again, he has proved his fitness in time to be named in Schmidt’s starting XV for the clash with the Springboks.

Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney Kearney puts Tommy Bowe under pressure as he catches the ball at Carton House earlier. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“100% for the last two weeks,” said Kearney when asked if he had trained fully at Carton House this week.

“A couple of hamstring niggles over the last two weeks. I probably could have played in Europe round two [against Castres], but given the fact that such a big November was around the corner, the executive decision was maybe just to hold off.”

Schmidt and his coaching staff have opted for fullback Felix Jones on the bench for Saturday’s Test match, providing cover for Kearney, but the Munster man has earned his place through excellent provincial form.

The full fitness of out-half Johnny Sexton is a relief, given that there was a scare over the Racing Métro playmaker’s thigh earlier in the week. The 29-year-old is in peak condition and ready to face down the Boks.

“Again, he’s trained really well,” said Schmidt. “He has gone in and out a bit with Ian Madigan, but that’s something we’d do anyway during the week to help prepare both players. Johnny took a full part in training today and trained well.”

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Murray Kinsella

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