Watching Ireland’s Grand Slam unfold, much of the focus was on the attacking flair and defensive grit that Andy Farrell’s side showed to complete the clean sweep.
Michael Ala’alatoa is all for praising both aspects of Ireland’s impressive play, but as a fully-fledged member of the front-row union, the Leinster prop was keeping a particularly close eye on the nitty-gritty goings on up front.
The Samoa captain, who will lead his country at the World Cup later this year, doesn’t believe the Ireland front-row get enough credit for their role in the success.
“You can definitely say that after watching the Six Nations,” Ala’alatoa said. “Last year there wasn’t enough opportunities for guys like Finlay (Bealham) and Tom O’Toole to show what they have, but it’s been a blessing in disguise for Tadhg (Furlong) to have that unfortunate injury.
“Both of them have stepped up and shown what they can do on the big stage, where the pressure is high.
“You saw the game against France, Finlay played really well on the ball and on set-piece and then Tom O’Toole came on and made an impact as well.
“That’s what you want to see, you can see where Irish rugby is going; it’s well-stocked in the front-row, and it’s perfect preparation for the World Cup.
“If one of their front-liners gets injured, they’re well-placed now to deal with it.”
With Furlong sidelined for most of the season until he made his comeback with Ireland recently, Ala’alatoa has been an important cog in the Leinster wheel, which is why he had no hesitation in recently signing a contract extension.
As he gears up for the run-in, the 31-year-old is relishing the next few weeks.
“We’ve had a few weeks off to refresh, I managed to get away a few times,” Ala’alatoa said. “Went to Tenerife the first week, another week towards the back end and went to Amsterdam. Two different holidays.
“Aw man, I’m still pinching myself that we’re able to travel like that. Ireland’s fairly similar to New Zealand in the language, the place itself, being able to talk to people in English. Then, you travel an hour here or two hours there and it’s a completely different landscape, culture; the landscape, the buildings are different, the food is different. It’s awesome to be able to do that.
“The body’s had a chance to freshen up after 10 weeks off as well,” added Ala’alatoa, who is set to feature in Leinster’s URC clash with the Stormers at the RDS tomorrow night.