During last year's Six Nations, Andrew Trimble sent out an odd tweet revealing that Mike Ross was a one-time video game champion at international level. Little was said about the story since, but the tweet made us much more curious about what makes Ross tick, and the possible link between scrummaging and gaming. Balls.ie caught up with the Leinster tighthead on Friday evening in the Christchurch crypt only hours after Johnny Sexton's move to Racing was announced to talk playing abroad, the Six Nations and the time he won the UK championship in Team Fortress. As we learned, not only is Ross arguably the most important player in the Ireland starting XV - it will take Ireland fans a long time to forget what happened in Twickenham last Paddy's Day after Ross went off - he's a pretty decent ally to have in Deep Space 3.
Balls: So Jonny Sexton is off to Paris, huh?
MR: Yeah. We only found after we finished training. We all knew he was talking to Racing – we talk amongst each other, you know – but we thought he’d come to an agreement [with the IRFU]. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Balls: It'll be a big blow to Leinster.
MR: He’s been a tremendous player for us, so you couldn’t begrudge him of it. I guess you’ll always get the trolls out there.
Balls: Johnny Cash someone was calling him online
But when you consider how much a difference he’s made to Leinster over the years, it's incredible. He practically dragged us over the line in the 2011 Heineken Cup Final.
Balls: He gave an inspirational speech that day, right?
MR: A lot has been made of that speech. (laughs) I don’t really remember that hairs on the back of my head standing up. We just knew we hadn’t really had the ball to play with. In the second half, we kept the ball and the rest is history.
Balls: The scrum turned it around in the second half that day as well.
MR: We did alright after the first half, yeah.
Balls: Is moving aborad to play a big deal. You left Munster to play in England with Harlequins. How did that experience stand to you?
MR: I was at a different point in my career. I wasn’t an established international like Jonny. It was a no-brainer. It was either this [Harlequins] or no professional rugby. Well, I’ll take professional rugby please. I really loved it actually. I found it really difficult to come back. But it’s worked out well.
Balls: You just signed up for two more years at Leinster. Was that a no-brainer?
MR: Yeah, Look, I only started playing for Ireland on a regular in 2011 – got my first cap in 2009 – so I’d like to get as many caps I possibly can.
Balls: And being in Leinster must help.
MR: Yeah, Leinster is a phenomenal side to play with. We’ve got phenomenal players. We’ve had so much success over the last few years, hopefully this year is just a blip.
Balls: Would you ever consider a move back to Munster?
MR: I’d never rule it out. But I’m happy out here with Leinster however long they want me. I’ll be here, I think.
Balls: How was the first week of training with the new Ireland captain?
MR: It's gone really well. Training went well, guys buzzing around the place. It’s been a good week, and hopefully there’ll be another good week heading into the game.
Balls: How’s Jamie Heaslip handling the pressure?
MR: You can never hassle Jamie. He’s pretty laid back. Pressure’s for tyres, as he says. He’ll bring his own take to it. He’s got big boots to fill in Drico, and I’m sure he’ll be well able for it.
Balls: How’d you end up as a prop anyway?
MR: Simple. I was big lad at underage. That was there they put me. That’s one of the good things about rugby: it’s game for fellas of all shapes and sizes. Short lad goes in at scrum half, tall lad goes in at second row, fat lad goes in at front row. And I enjoyed it. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed: competition at its rawest. You either go backwards or you go forwards. Sometimes there’s a stalemate. If your scrum is going well and you’re smashing them up front, it gives your team a boost and takes the energy out of the opposition.
Balls: Did you play gaelic football at all?
MR: I played a little bit, but I never really had a talent for it. Someone put a rugby ball in my hand and I never looked back.
Balls What’s the story with you and gaming. Aren’t you like a world champion?
MR: Ok, right, here’s the story. Trimble put this out, the bollox. When I was about 16 or 17, I played a lot of Quake. I played a mod for Quake called Team Fortress. You might have heard of Team Fortress 2, it grew off that. I played with a clan, you know a group of guys. The internet was still in its infancy back then, so I was playing on this dial-up modem in Cork somewhere. I started playing with a bunch of guys from England and joined up with them. We won the UK national championships. I got pretty good at it. This was probably 1999.
Balls: Did you have to go to England for this?
MR: It happened all online. There’d just be voice – ‘he’s in the throne room’ – but I still play with those guys today. It’s the same thing, we’ve got the teamspeak. You’ve got the headphones on, chatting away, and it’s Battlefield 3 instead of Quake. One of them turned out to be a big Harlequins fan before I even moved over. ‘You’re doing what?!?’ he said when I moved over.
Balls: Do you still play a lot?
MR: I do. It’s a thing I’ve always enjoyed. I play now more for the social aspect. If I’m online and see a group of them, I’ll just join in and we’ll start slagging each other. Because I can’t go for pints down the pub.
Balls: Did you ever consider going down the computer science route instead of playing rugby?
MR: I was looking at computer science stuff back in ’99, but it’s a lot of coding, a lot of maths. I’m trying to learn [computer language] Python now, just to see if it’s any use and to see if I can do it. It’s a lot more language-orientated, which I like more than just basic code. A bit more doable. I don’t know, though, do you really want to make your hobby your work?
Balls: Yeah, I guess at the moment, you come home after a day’s training and you have that separation.
MR: Whereas if I’m sitting in front of a computer 24/7, would enjoy that? I don’t know.
Balls: Are any of the other Ireland lads seriously into gaming?
MR: No not really. I play on computer. Loads of the lads play on the Playstation3 or the Xbox. They were slagging me a bit with Modern Warfare 2, so I had to get a keyboard adaptor so I could level the playing field. I just got my knife and killed loads of them and they shut up pretty quickly after that.
Balls: They seem like different worlds, but there must be some similarity between gaming and rugby. Battle, maybe?
MR: Certainly with the likes of Battlefield 3, it’s teamwork. You’re invited into squads and you have different strengths and a good squad can be the difference between winning and losing. In Dead Space 3, you’ve got Co-op mode. You can go on with friends and it can be the difference between winning and losing. I enjoy the teamwork-oriented games. I tried to play Starcraft. Got crushed. Do you know Starcraft?
Balls: I don’t sorry.
MR: There’s actually professional leagues in Korea with players who earn thousands of euro. And they televise it, and it’s become increasingly popular as a spectator sport.
Balls: It's a mad world.
MR: It is.
Mike Ross speaking at the launch of Dead Space 3 - cut to the heart of deep space terror alone, or team up with a friend to experience the thrills and the chills together, as EA delivers an award winning action packed horror sequel that will send you and your friends on a hair-raising adventure. Dead Space 3 is available from Xtravision, Gamestop and Smyths stores nationwide from February 8th.