Biltong and the Beast

'They keep biltong in the fridges instead of vegetables, which is brilliant'

Ireland tighthead Mike Ross knows he faces a big scrum battle on Saturday.

Rory Keane reports from Cape Town

MIKE ROSS has sounded a warning to his Ireland team-mates ahead of Saturday’s opening Test against the Springboks in Cape Town.

Four years ago, Ireland travelled to New Zealand for a three-Test series following another 50-week season taking in another ill-fated World Cup campaign.

Mike Ross, Rory Best and Jack McGrath Ross, Rory Best and Jack McGrath pack down. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

A first Test hammering in Auckland was followed by an almighty backlash in Christchurch the following weekend, with the All Blacks needing a last-minute drop goal from Dan Carter to clinch a 22-19 victory.

What followed in the third Test was a horror show in Hamilton as the home side stuck 60 unanswered points on an injury-hit Ireland side, and the Leinster tighthead is hoping this squad pay heed to history.

“The last time we played a three-Test series after a World Cup was down in New Zealand and it didn’t finish too well for us so we’d be very keen to make sure that doesn’t happen to us again,” said the Corkman.

“It is a long season. By the time we get to the third Test it will be 52 weeks since we first came together.

“It’s a test of our resources but it’s also a test our mental strength as rugby players but, to be fair, the strength and conditioning staff have been looking after us so we’re as fresh as we can be.”

That shellacking at the hands of Sonny Bill Williams and Co. at Waikato Stadium still haunts Ross to this very day: “We had a couple of injuries too far I think. Jamie Heaslip broke his hand and we had a couple of injuries before that and I suppose we annoyed New Zealand by coming so close to them in Christchurch.

“It was just one of those games where nothing went right for us and everything for them. I’d prefer to pretend it never happened, but it did.”

Back to the present day and Ross and his team-mates are preparing to face the might of Allister Coetzee’s new-look Springboks.

Mike Ross and Jack McGrath tackle Tendai Mtawarira Ross had a tough time against the Beast in 2014. Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

The veteran front rower was part of the starting line-up that sent the Boks packing two years ago in Dublin, but it promises that it will be a much tighter affair at Newlands this weekend.

“Two years ago… we won well but it was a little tighter than [the scoreline] suggested,” said Ross.

“I remember our scrum didn’t go too well that day, they had a very good scrum and a lot of players who were there are still in-situ. So, we have to work pretty hard at that and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ross will renew acquaintances with Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira having locked horns with the powerful Sharks loosehead at the Aviva Stadium in November 2014.

“It was my first time playing against him two years ago and I was shocked by how quickly he could apply his power,” Ross recalled, before adding: “One second he wasn’t there and the next minute it was like zero to 60 in two seconds. It was instantaneous. I suppose I learned a good valuable lesson that day.”

Next to Ross that day was Rory Best. Ahead of his 60th cap on Saturday, he paid tribute to the Ireland captain and his partner-in-crime at scrum-time: “We’re used to playing together at this stage.

“To be honest, Saturday is my 60th Test and I think I’ve played 58 or 59 of those with Rory so there’s a good bond there between us and I think we’re pretty in-sync when it comes to scrummaging.”

Tadhg Furlong and Mike Ross Ross is enjoying the trip to South Africa. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

It has certainly proved a memorable trip for the squad off the field thus far.

“It’s a great country,” Ross added. “For one thing, they keep biltong in the fridges instead of vegetables, which is brilliant. I love that.

“We went shark diving yesterday and we flew over a lot of the city because we took the helicopter over there and, honestly, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Just seeing the countryside and being in the ocean next to this thing the size of a taxi swimming around next to you. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

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