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Rookie Ross rising to distinction

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Sportal.co.nz     11 Sep 2009     Getty Images

The Crusaders and Canterbury lock had been targeted for the big time from an early age and with injuries to Ali Williams and Anthony Boric during the Rebel Sport Super 14, it was clearly time for Ross to be given his chance.

He said it wasn't until the Italy Test, albeit one of the side's poorer efforts of the year, that he felt part of the All Blacks furniture. Then while he had felt comfortable in the first Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia, the two tough Tests in South Africa had put him back in his place fairly quickly.

"You've just got to get back on the horse and we did that against Australia in Sydney and even though we scraped in by one point it was still a Test win and that puts us in good stride for this weekend coming up," he said.

Ross enjoyed his break from rugby after being heavily involved in the first part of the All Blacks programme for the season.

"It is an exciting challenge and I do enjoy it. This week it is one of the biggest challenges and you've just got to be ready for it, and I think we are," he said.

Ross said one of the key elements in the success of the Springbok lineout was that it was such a tall lineout.

"That is a massive advantage for them, and everyone is a jumper and everybody is a lifter so you've just got to pick your moments and be able to read it well," he said.

"They are a team that operates their lineout really well."

Ross felt his exposure to All Blacks rugby had been a big help in boosting the hardness which was seen as the next big requirement of his game when he was selected for the side earlier in the year.

"It's a whole different ballgame at Test level," he said. The difference in physicality between the Super 14 and Test level was huge.

"I've just taken it in my stride and bettered myself each week which has been great.

Both Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha were big men, they were experienced athletes, they had been around for a while and they were hardened players which came with Test experience.

"I've just got to have more time in the saddle before I come up to their level," he said.

There was rivalry between the middle row protagonists, and the new boy on the block had received some advice on the bottom of rucks from the kingpins, but he said they were still gracious enough to acknowledge when their ball had been stolen, even if it was to say it wouldn't happen again.

Ross wasn't expecting Springboks captain John Smit to be caught out again as he had been by the Australians when scrummaging in Brisbane at the weekend.

"He's a good scrummager. He's an experienced man and he won't lie down in the scrum," he said.

Ross acknowledged that he had to become more involved in scrum application instead of concentrating largely on his area in the lineouts and re-starts.

"I've tried to grow as a scrummaging lock and tried to have a go on both sides as well and that's going to come with experience," he said.

The pack was making good strides in the development of its scrummaging and lineout work and while a good deal of emphasis in this week's preparation had been on countering the kicking game, he was still happy with where the pack was at.