Ireland’s victory over Italy saw a number of players stake their claim for a spot in Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad but few did so as emphatically as Andrew Porter.
Ireland’s largely experimental line-up was given a real test by their motivated, powerful Guinness Six Nations rivals, who jumped into an early lead as Maxime Mbanda and Carlo Canna crossed the whitewash either side of Joey Carbery’s converted try.
But from 10-7 down, Ireland kicked on with Dave Kearney and the impressive Andrew Conway dotting down before the break and Jordi Murphy and Kieran Marmion doing likewise after to seal a 29-10 triumph.
Props often do a lot of unseen work but Porter’s impact was so important, it’s worth highlighting the shift he put in at the Aviva Stadium.
Versatility holds the key
Most front-rowers rarely go beyond about 50 minutes in international rugby yet Porter put in a 70-minute stint against Conor O’Shea’s side in a demonstration of his conditioning.
He lined up at tighthead for the first 40 minutes – the position at which all his professional rugby has been played – before switching over to loosehead after the break.
Loosehead is where Porter shone back as a talented under-20s star before being encouraged to switch across two-and-a-half years ago.
But with only five props likely to make Schmidt’s final 31-man squad for the World Cup, an ability to cover the No.1 and No.3 shirts could well hold the key to being the fifth man, as the coach himself hinted at.
Schmidt said: “We wanted to shift Andrew Porter across and give him 20 minutes there [at loosehead], because the reality is in the World Cup, you’re going to have to have one prop who can play either side. Potentially maybe even two.”
Fortunately for the 23-year-old, he passed his audition with flying colours.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) August 10, 2019
Raw power on display
While his play in the loose is still a work in progress, Porter’s ability at the set-piece is as good as anyone around.
His raw power that allegedly sees him squat up to 350kg makes him a scrummaging force – hence the initial move to tighthead to act as a cornerstone for the scrum – and it was on display once more against the Azzurri.
Ireland were perfect on their own set-pieces, with a 100 per cent success rate, and the Leinsterman was crucial to that success, causing opposite number Nicola Quaglio all sorts of problems in the first half.
He then slotted in seamlessly on the other side of the scrum after half-time, although admitted there was a slight re-adjustment period.
“I was a bit rusty,” Porter said post-match. “I haven’t played a game at loosehead since, jeez I don’t know how long!
“It’s something I work on, to be as versatile as I can over in Japan if I get picked. I’ll be looking to push that forward in the next few weeks.
“It’s always been something coaches go over with me, that if needs be I could slot back in at loosehead.
“It’s important now to get reps in training, and have runs in games like these. It’s great to be able to play both sides, it pushes my case a bit forward like that.”
‘Writing with your bad hand’
To the untrained eye, one prop might appear to be like any other prop but the difference between a No.1 and a No.3 can be night and day.
That makes Porter’s immediate comfort at switching positions all the more impressive.
“At the beginning, two years ago, switching from loosehead to tighthead was very tough,” he explained. “Moving across the scrum is like writing with your bad hand.
“But you’re going up against some of the best guys in the world in training and in matches, so that’s really helped over the last couple of years.
“And then it’s the same again in the past few months, having time at loosehead again.”
Porter may not currently be as big a force around the field as he is at the scrum but the prop still made four tough carries against the Azzurri to slowly grind the defence down and also beat a pair of defenders.
The Dublin native is steadily becoming an all-round player and if the trajectory he showed against Italy continues, he may yet be on the plane to Japan next month.