Ireland’s Mike Ross believes France’s Atonio poses “monster” threat

Mike Ross and Rory Best
Mike Ross and Rory Best

Mike Ross has warned Ireland to be wary of the scrum carnage “monster” France prop Uini Atonio could cause in Dublin on Saturday.

La Rochelle’s New Zealand-born Atonio wreaked havoc in the scrum during a second-half cameo in France’s 15-8 victory over Scotland in their RBS 6 Nations opener.

Experienced tighthead Ross also believes Joe Schmidt’s side will face a seething France at the Aviva Stadium, with Les Bleus still smarting from Ireland’s 22-20 win in Paris last year.

“France are very proud of their scrummaging,” said Ross, in the wake of Ireland’s 26-3 win in Italy.

“We put in a good shift against them last year: they’ll be remembering that and looking to put pressure on us at home.

“They will hold onto what happened last year because it’s a huge pride thing for them.

“Some French lads can get really fired up if the scrum’s not going well for them, so you have to be ready for the battle.

It’s always tough against them, there’s a few guys changed in their team but they will still be a massive test in the scrum.

“Nicolas Mas has missed out but they’ve got Rabah Slimani and an absolute monster in Atonio on the bench for a bit of impact.”

Ross revealed relief at retaining his Test place despite slipping behind Ireland rival Marty Moore at Leinster - but admitted he remains keen not to test “ruthless” head coach Schmidt’s patience.

He said: “I had a big task on my shoulders in Italy: Joe gave me the responsibility of starting and he didn’t have to do that, so a big performance was required.

“I think it went well and that’s good for the confidence, but at the same time Joe’s pretty ruthless, and if you don’t deliver then his faith in you will only run so far.”

Ireland were able to withstand the challenge of Italy’s much-vaunted front-row, with talisman Martin Castrogiovanni neatly contained.

Ross offered a compelling insight into life at the coal face, where the all-important tighthead anchors the set-piece by fending off attacks from all angles.

The 33-year-old admitted every prop battles to endure the intensity, and the former Harlequin expects more of the same against France on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of pressure, a hell of a lot of pressure,” said Ross.

“Paulie’s (O’Connell) behind me giving it socks, you’ve got the hooker attacking your left shoulder, you’ve got the loosehead trying to come up under your right shoulder and you just have to sink and absorb that.

“I think it’s been measured before that there’s two tonnes of force across an international front-row, so all that’s going through your spine.

“It’s not a great feeling, but it’s what we’re paid to do!”