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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Billy Stickland/INPHO
# Another level
South Africa will be 'absolutely foaming at the mouth', says Ross as he gears up for altitude
The prop also mentions the rallying call from Rory Best that kick-started a most incredible victory.

THE LUNG CAPACITIES  of the Irish squad were pushed to the limit at Newlands last weekend, but the forthcoming Test at altitude in Johannesburg will be on another level, literally.

Located 1,800 metres above sea level, Ellis Park is officially the highest international rugby ground in the world.

It will be a new experience for the majority of Joe Schmidt’s men although Mike Ross could offer a bit of insight into the testing low-oxygen conditions that playing on the Highveld demands.

“I’ve done some research on it,” said the Leinster tighthead.

“I’ve trained at altitude when I was in a tent and it was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever done.

“Leinster got an altitude tent for pre-season about two seasons ago, they dropped the oxygen down to about 13% and then you had to do about 10 minutes of very intense exercise and, honestly, your vision was going black around the edges coming out of it.”

“Johannesburg is about 1,500 hundred metres [above sea level] there so hopefully, with a week in, we’ll adjust to it.

“[The training] was on a bike or a rower. So, it was only 10 minutes but I don’t think Johannesburg is as bad as the tent.”

When Lwazi Mvovo scythed through the Irish midfield to make it 13-10 following CJ Stander’s red card it looked like it would be a long night for the visitors.

A rallying call from Rory Best, however, set the tone for an incredible Irish effort for the next hour of play.

I remember Rory turned to us underneath the posts and said ‘if you want a challenge lads, here it is, just think of the reward if we manged to pull this off.’”

“So, we just hung in there and Paddy kicked really. The backs played phenomenally well and Conor Murray got a great try. We didn’t go into our shells, we kept chasing it and I think that was the difference.”

Defending for almost an hour with 14 men may prove the perfect preparation for the crunch second Test with the Boks this weekend.

Ross put in a tireless shift at Newlands before leaving the fray in the 58th minute with his provincial team-mate Tadhg Furlong entering the action.

“It was pretty tough,” said Ross on his side’s defensive effort in Cape Town.

“They had a lot danger men, I think Mvovo is one the quickest wings in world rugby. If you allow them to stretch his legs he can lethal and the same with their pack, they had a lot of big runners, Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth can motor, they never stop going and you saw that guy Du Toit when he came on, he can shift a bit as well which you saw with that intercept.

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Mike Ross Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ll enjoy this win but, at the same time, we know we have a task on the other hand with the next two games because they’re a very proud rugby nation and they’ll be absolutely foaming at the mouth next weekend I’d say.”

The Corkman was forced to watch the agonising endgame from the touchline as his team-mates repelled waves of late Springbok attacks.

“It was pretty tough,” the  36-year-old admitted. “Especially when they got that intercept I was like ‘please, let’s just hang on for five minutes, another five minutes’.

“I thought the lads did superbly well to bundle JP Pietersen into touch at the end… there’s like two or three lads coming across, fighting with each other, to get to him, that was really heartening to see.”

More of that resolve will be needed this weekend. Ireland will need to up a level, in every sense of the word.

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