Thursday 29 September 2016

'Growing up near Donnybrook, you dream about this'

The Big Interview: Luke McGrath

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30

Leinster’s Luke McGrath is tackled by Edinburgh’s Hamish Watson during their Pro12 clash. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster’s Luke McGrath is tackled by Edinburgh’s Hamish Watson during their Pro12 clash. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It might be his day off but as with a lot of players that doesn't necessarily mean a day away from Leinster HQ or from rugby for scrum-half Luke McGrath.

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"There is always something else to do! Whether that is kicking or maybe some extra video work or rub-down or whatever. It's important to get time away too but it's rare that you wouldn't be at something even on your day off."

Not a reaction so to taking on the hottest ticket in the Guinness Pro12 town?

"No" he smiles, "but it's hard to ignore where the Ospreys are at either and how well they have been doing. They've just picked up where they left off last season."

Steve Tandy's men finished off with four bonus point wins last season and have started this with another three. It's a record run for any team in the Pro12.

Ruthless

"They've been playing with a real ruthless streak," said McGrath. "I think last season hurt. They are out of the Champions Cup this season as a result and you can be sure that the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb will want to put that right.

"So picking up bonus points and getting as many points on the board as early as possible in particular while their internationals are around is a huge focus for them I'm sure.

"Like it is for all of us to be fair. We want to make it count when we have our Irish lads around too because that is when we have our strongest hand to pick from.

"They've done that brilliantly in their three games this season, and the RDS won't faze them either."

McGrath is of course referring to the occasions that the Ospreys have managed to account for Leinster in their home stadium, notably in two Pro12 finals. Do some grounds lose the fear factor?

"I'm not sure if an away ground ever loses it because the home team are at an advantage, being at home, in their own beds, eating their own food, no travel, home support, little things like that.

"But there are definitely some grounds where you look forward to playing.

"Thomond Park is one for a lot of lads. For me it's the same when playing the Ospreys in Swansea. You get a very tough game but I look forward to playing there. Great atmosphere, pitch in good condition, facilities are good.

"So I'd imagine it's the same for them coming to the RDS. They have good memories of playing here, there's always a decent crowd they play against a team in Leinster that also like to have a go. So it makes for a good game to be involved in."

The Ospreys have a number of their Welsh internationals back in action tonight. Household names. But there is also bubbling away the next layer of talent at the Ospreys and none more so than Sam Davies, last year's Guinness Pro12 Young Player of the Year.

McGrath has seen Davies up close plenty of times, and knows what's special about him.

"He's a special talent," he says. "I have seen him up close at age-grade international level all the way up and he was always a very good player. An excellent left foot on him but he sees the game unfolding in front of him brilliantly, he reads it very well.

"He puts pressure on you and with one sweep of his boot you can be trudging back 30, 40, 50 yards to start all over again. And he's only going to get better."

The same can be said of scrum-half McGrath who grew up only up the road from the RDS Arena and has captained the team on two occasions already this season - at home in Round 1 against Treviso and away in Round 2 against Glasgow.

Not many 23-year-olds have that on their CV.

"It was brilliant," he says with a broad smile, his body positively energised by the thought of leading out the team he supported as a young lad.

"Growing up just a short distance from Donnybrook and the RDS, you dream about it. But the dream probably doesn't extend to captaining the side. You just want to play for Leinster.

"So to captain my home club and to lead them out is very special. It's very humbling."

It wasn't his first time either as that came last season away to the Dragons. Worlds apart though.

"Yeah, I suppose we lost for a start! And it was away from home. So to lead out in front of the home support in the RDS this year and then to lead the team to a win is extra special but I think I needed to go through that too," he says.

"That loss away from home as captain. . . you learn from it."

Is this the classic learning more from your losses than your wins bit?

"I think there is a bit of that but also around the day itself and how you as a captain set the example and the tempo for a lot of what we do," explains McGrath.

"But that's maybe easier at home because the build up in the RDS is shorter. But away from home it's a long day. A lot of sitting around doing nothing.

"Then the game itself: the referee and how to engage with him; game management and different situations and how you approach them away from home as against at home.

"You can talk all you want in UCD at training or in the team room, but until you are on the pitch with a crowd roaring at you and a referee looking for an answer or your team looking for a steer, you won't know.

Chats

"To be fair, Leo (Cullen) and Stuart (Lancaster) and even Isa (Nacewa) have been great too. I've had chats with them this season and about how I went about my role and I think I've learned hugely."

With his Commerce Degree from UCD finally in the back pocket, this will be the first time in five years that McGrath will have rugby and only rugby to occupy his mind, and as a result, he sees this as a big year to put all his energy and all his focus into one thing and one thing only.

"I loved the experience of the Pro12 Final. But small mistakes . . . those one percenters. . . play the game not the occasion.

"I'd love to get back there again and put those things right. Until then there will be that disappointment. Those questions. We all want to be able to get back there and see if we have the answers."

Irish Independent

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