McLaughlin hits timely high note
Timing is everything. Leinster back-rower Kevin McLaughlin knows all about the importance of hitting the perfect note in his other passionate pursuit of choral singing.
But all that is on hold as he seeks to destroy the competition for his World Cup slot by starring in Leinster's equally well-timed push for an unprecedented Heineken Cup/Magners League double.
Since his return from a lengthy lay-off, McLaughlin has slowly cut a swathe through the Leinster competition to affirm his back-row starting credentials; outplaying Donnacha Ryan at Thomond Park appreciated his stock still further on a national scale.
And now, as he ponders the barely ceasing sweep of action between the submission of the Leicester Tigers and the arrival of Ulster's still upright challengers for a Magners home semi-final, McLaughlin is primed to deliver yet another powerful statement.
The Kildare-born player, who debuted for Ireland in last year's Six Nations before being quietly sidelined by the Irish management, then lost seven months to serious injury.
He is playing catch-up. Still, he is 27 just days after Ireland play Australia in the World Cup; he knows it could be now or never and he is conscious that he could well be timing his run perfectly.
"Yeah, I was delighted to get back into the team for these two big matches," he says. "I knew it was going to be very difficult getting back into the starting XV and it's great to be back in that position.
"I'm going to keep on trying to improve and the competition is still there, so I'm going to try to hold onto the jersey."
McLaughlin's perfect timing was keenly observed in the feverish Aviva last Saturday as he stealthily, if illegally, manhandled jumpers on two of the Tigers' throw-ins to demonstrate that the force was most vividly with his Leinster team-mates.
And with McLaughlin too, given Ireland's desperate requirement for an option at the back of the line-out, particularly given Stephen Ferris' unfortunate demise into the category of chronic injury victim.
"Yeah, to be honest I didn't really think about it, I was just very conscious coming into the game about getting up in the air," reports McLaughlin, who may continue in the side even if Leinster manage to correctly call Shane Jennings' injury status this week.
"We knew the line-out was a huge part of their game and myself and Leo Cullen had a lot of chats during the week about how we were going to go about disrupting their line-out.
"And Leo obviously came up with this strategy, and it worked very well. The key thing is getting up in the air. If you're not in the air and in their faces, then you don't have a chance of disrupting their put-in ball. But what you do when you're up there is key."
Typically, McLaughlin is mature enough to know that even more improvement is required of him as crucial competitive dates loom.
"It's hard to say whether that was the best Leinster game of my career or not. I was happy with my line-out defence, obviously, but there were parts of my game that I wasn't as happy with so I'll go back and look at them ahead of the semi-final.
"I feel more tired than anything. To be honest the Munster game the week before was good preparation, because they hit you big in that. I think that actually worked in our favour, having a really tough derby game."
After a bristling fortnight of violent collisions, he expects nothing less from Ulster this weekend.
"Yeah, they're focusing solely on the Magners League so we're expecting another really tough one from them. They are a very physical side so we're expecting another battle on Saturday."
His Ulster counterpart, South African Robbie Diack, is similarly enthused about drawing battle lines as his side seek to maximise the opportunities of securing at least one home semi-final this season.
"We are very disappointed we lost against Northampton," says Diack. "Many people assumed they would give us a beating but our squad knew how good we are and believed we could cause an upset. We put up a good fight on the day but obviously it wasn't good enough.
"We are still in with a shout of reaching the play-offs and we will try to maintain the winning momentum that we had built up in the Magners League. We still have a chance to achieve something special this season.
"The Leinster game is crucial for us. They are incredibly tough opponents, especially at home. They will be full of confidence after beating Leicester but we too have confidence in our own ability."