Tuesday 28 February 2017

Front-row 'galvanised' by Bath woe - McGrath

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Mental health is something we can all relate to, says Jack McGrath, who has been talking at a Pieta House event
Mental health is something we can all relate to, says Jack McGrath, who has been talking at a Pieta House event
Mental health is something we can all relate to, says Jack McGrath, who has been talking at a Pieta House event

It hasn't been an easy week for the front-row union in Leinster Rugby but whatever has gone before versus Bath is quickly left behind, according to loosehead prop Jack McGrath.

"It has to be. We met up as a pack and we discussed the issues as we saw them, it's galvanised us and we then went about our business on the training pitch. Monday was a really good day for us and I think we have addressed the issues but Friday against a really good Ulster pack will be the real test."

It is also an Ulster pack that he knows very well. But they know him too.

"Yeah, they know me and they know us well but to be honest with analysis the way it is now, every team has the opposition team well researched and you would know any amount of detail about them.

"But it's very different when you are then on the pitch and the various things that go into a performance. Often things like the weather or underfoot conditions negate what you have prepped.

"So yes they will feel like they know us but it's the same for us with Rory (Best) and Iain (Henderson) and Chris Henry for example. But come kick-off we'll just go at them like they will go at us. I'm looking forward to it. It's a great game to get stuck into and hopefully we can improve as a pack and as a team from last weekend."

The knowledge that the players have of each other is one things but what of behind the scenes. There is a new man in charge in the Kingspan Stadium and in director of rugby Les Kiss, McGrath believes they have one of the good ones.

Specific

"I think it's a great appointment for them and for Les himself. I have known Les for a long time now and obviously with Ireland he had a very specific role as defence coach but he was about far more than that. He was a man for detail so he did have his eyes on other things and he was a great coach to bounce stuff off.

"Obviously this is now different and there are so many other roles and players under his guidance and ultimately it's all on him now. But I think he's a great coach and I wish him well. He has served Irish rugby brilliantly and it's well deserved."

Last season in their head-to-head battles home advantage ruled supreme. Leinster stood firm 24-11 in the RDS, while Ulster held sway - and kept Leinster scoreless in the second half - in a 26-10 reversal.

McGrath played 70 odd minutes at home and came off the bench up there. A first inter-pro game of the year and one he enjoys.

"Again I go back to the familiar faces. You enjoy going up against mates and I suppose of the Ulster lads given the amount of time we spend together I'd be good mates with Rory. But also Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe - although I know they won't be involved - Iain and Paddy Jackson. It's good fun going against your mates but also testing yourself against really good professionals.

"They are really good players and after their result against Saracens last weekend they too will be looking for an answer. I suppose we just have to make sure that we better that and that we make sure that we look after our performance first and foremost."

A difficult week for reviews and soul-searching it may have been, but for McGrath he is also coming into the next stage of his career. At 26, he is now no longer 'just out of the Academy' but becoming a seasoned club and international player with 81 Leinster caps and 25 Irish caps and a Rugby World Cup under his belt.

He is keen to develop another side, away from the pitch, and has thrown himself into a few projects close to his own heart.

"I was helping out with Pieta House there this week, speaking at one of their events. Mental health is something I think that we can all relate to in some way shape or form and I am delighted to be able to help them.

"But also for me I had to speak at the 'Bounce of the Ball' event recently and that's the first time that I have done something like that and while I was anxious, I really enjoyed it and those events will help me to develop outside of the pitch and hopefully I can help Pieta House with similar activities in the future."

He has also taken to the streets and is involved with the Liberty Saints project which set up a rugby club in inner city Dublin.

"We've come a long way!" he says laughing. "I remember when I first went out there a few years back through a mate of mine and we had I think six or seven lads down there ready to go and we were training under lights under this generator with only two of the six bulbs working! I think there might have been a bit of green diesel keeping the generator going but there was great enthusiasm and energy and I loved it. It drifted away for a while which was a pity but it's back now with an U-13s team and then an older team that caters for older players.

"There are great plans there to get a 4G pitch set up that can be used and there is a tournament in the new year in Portugal I think that they have their eyes on that they want to get to. I just think it's a brilliant initiative and when you see clubs like that being set up and rugby being used as an outlet in the communities and that can only be a good thing.

Discipline

"Rugby teaches discipline and drive and teamwork and all these things that you might take for granted when you're in that set-up day in, day out but for others those attributes maybe don't come as easily so if rugby and teams like the Liberty Saints can give that outlet, brilliant."

Back to Ulster and back to developing on the pitch, he is confident that Leinster have the plan required to take a first inter-pro scalp of the season.

"I just think there is a lot to play for. We're in fourth, they're only a point behind. Both teams with lots of quality, plenty of internationals, I think it's a great time for both teams to facing each other. We both need to get form and momentum from the Pro12 before we go into Europe again. But we have to believe in our ability.

"It's a good one for our supporters to look forward to and I think the RDS will be a great place to run out on Friday and hopefully they can drive us home."

Irish Independent

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