Rising star McGrath eager for another taste of the action
GAME TIME is hard currency when you are a 22-year-old rugby player and Jack McGrath could justifiably feel a little short-changed at this stage of his Leinster career.
He got a rare glimpse of the limelight last weekend, impressing at loosehead in a narrow victory over Connacht at the Sportsground, and he could be involved in Cardiff on Saturday. But when the Heineken Cup rolls around again the following weekend, McGrath will again watch from the stands as Cian Healy and Heinke van der Merwe return to the fold against Glasgow.
With the issue of non-Irish players dominating discussions in rugby circles, it would appear to be a prime example of an admittedly excellent South African loosehead prop standing in the way of an inexperienced homegrown option.
The Leinster coaching team are urging patience and, given the vagaries of the front row and the longer timescale involved in reaching maturity as a prop, there is some merit in their assertions.
However, with the premium on prop forwards in Ireland these days, it seems fruitless to have a hungry, young exponent playing in the backwater competitions when he could be learning against the best.
For all the gym work and hitting scrum machines, props need to take their beatings young, learn from the best and get better as a result.
Weighing in at almost 19 stone and standing 6' 0", McGrath would appear to have the physical capacity to compete at the top level, but it looks like he'll have to bide his time.
"I think you'd have to look at the situation and what he'd be going up against and what would be best for our team," said Leinster forwards coach Jonno Gibbes when asked if the young prop was ready for Heineken Cup action.
"He has some good energy. He's been working away and has had some good innings with the British and Irish Cup team. He really showed his hunger and it was a good 50 minutes he put onto the park against Connacht.
"He's worked bloody hard behind the scenes. He's really keen to learn and he put that out on the park. He met our expectations and I'm sure that was pleasing for him."
McGrath himself has had to be content with learning from the two internationals who are blocking his path to a starting berth.
Breaking into the Heineken Cup champions' line-up is always going to be difficult and while the loosehead isn't agitating for a move away from the RDS, it sounds as if his patience will have its limits.
"It's hard enough to be patient but I'm happy where I am at the moment," he said. "I'm getting my runs and getting good feedback. I'm patient but I'm getting my chance as well so that's okay. We'll just have to see. I just got my first start this season, so we'll see where we go from here."