Thursday 29 September 2016

'Someone has to do it'- Leinster's Jack McGrath unmoved by prospect of ruining Connacht's fairy tale season

Tom Rooney

Published 23/05/2016 | 17:57

23 May 2016; Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, left, and Jack McGrath arrive for squad training at UCD in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
23 May 2016; Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, left, and Jack McGrath arrive for squad training at UCD in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

As Leinster run out at Murrayfield early Saturday evening for the Pro 12 final, they’ll do so in the knowledge that only their most fervent acolytes will be hoping for anything other than a Connacht victory.

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Like Leicester City in the Premier League, Pat Lam’s green machine have provided tangible evidence that the established elite are vulnerable when presented with a ravenous and unified collective.

Not only has Connacht’s charge to a first ever league semi-final and then final proved this season’s surprise narrative, but they’ve also endeared themselves to so many with a buccaneering brand of rugby rarely seen amid the current status quo of seismic collisions and near impermeable defences.

In that respect, it’s forgivably easy for the neutral to forget that Leinster are also a side in desperate need of their project being validated.

Since Joe Schmidt’s departure three years ago, the once masters of Europe have largely plodded along in a near unrecognisable manner. Matt O’Connor’s first season did yield a league title but supporters were regularly either disillusioned or furious under the Australian’s watch.

Leo Cullen’s inaugural campaign at the helm has often been equally uninspiring, particularly the ignominious Champions Cup exit, though somewhat mitigated given Leinster have supplied the national side for the World Cup and then the Six Nations.

When asked if he had any compunction with crushing one of the great underdog stories in recent memory, Jack McGrath didn’t blink.

“Someone has to do it, don’t they? These things happen. It’s a great story but we want to get some silverware, we haven’t had any in a while. But they’ll be raring to go, so it’ll be an interesting battle,” he said at Leinster HQ this afternoon.

“They’ve been really impressive. From where they’ve come in three years is a testament to the players and the coaching staff, so it’s great to see them playing some fantastic rugby.

“We always like playing Connacht. They’ve been pretty tough in the two games this season, so I think everyone’s been looking forward to it since the final whistle of the Glasgow (semi final) game on Saturday.”

It’s funny how a campaign unfolds because the knockout stages have presented Leinster with an opportunity to rectify two of their toughest losses of the season.

After being mauled by 30-6 in the Kinspan Stadium last month, they were matched with Ulster in the semi-final. In the interim the southern province were subjected to a number of barbs from those on the white side of the fence.

In response, they near blew Ulster off the park in the first half at the RDS last Friday and, in the process, conjured their best period of rugby in many a moon.

McGrath admits that the din from that defeat in Belfast rung loudly in Leinster ears as they ruthlessly took their redemption.

“That’s probably all it was, proving a point but there’s still a final to be played. We showed that streak is in us that we wanted to keep on scoring against them and that’s good to see from a Leinster team.

“We’ve been saying it non-stop in interviews and even meetings that we haven’t been clinical in certain areas. They way we started (against Ulster) is the way we want to start games – quick and fast.”

In March at the Sportsground, Leinster lost by 7-6 to a Connacht outfit  who were on their own in terms of approaching the contest with any modicum of ambition, and the subsequent backlash towards Cullen and co was scathing to say the least.

A win in Edinburgh is near certain to not win them any new fans but, once again, Leinster can right a lingering wrong and, in turn, equal the Ospreys' record of five league titles.

“There was a lot of disappointment after that,” McGrath revealed. “No doubt Connacht are a quality side but there is a point to prove, and we’re both going well so it’s going to be a good game.

“It’s going to be a tight game, but it’s one and two playing each other and that’s what everybody wants to see.”

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