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Jack McGrath is presented with the Bank of Ireland Players' Player of the Year award by Damien Daly, Director of Marketing and Customer Analytics, Bank of Ireland, at the Leinster Rugby Awards Ball. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

Jack McGrath is presented with the Bank of Ireland Players' Player of the Year award by Damien Daly, Director of Marketing and Customer Analytics, Bank of Ireland, at the Leinster Rugby Awards Ball. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

Jack McGrath is presented with the Bank of Ireland Players' Player of the Year award by Damien Daly, Director of Marketing and Customer Analytics, Bank of Ireland, at the Leinster Rugby Awards Ball. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

It is a sign of the changing times at Leinster that loose-head prop Jack McGrath has been voted Players' Player of the Year; tight-head Martin Moore the Young Player of the Year.

WHEN Leinster finally made their breakthrough against Leicester Tigers in the 2009 Heineken Cup final, they did so with Cian Healy at loose-head and two previously labeled journeymen, Bernard Jackman and Stan Wright, completing a moderate front row by European standards.

Moreover, current Leinster Academy coach John Fogarty and prop Ronan McCormack were stationed to be introduced from the bench. This would not have been a prospect to strike fear into the Tigers.

Leicester started out with the internationally respected Puma Marcos Ayerza, England's George Chuter and Italy's Martin Castrogiovanni as a bank of three intimidating players. The back-up brigade wasn't too shabby either, with present French international hooker Benjamin Kayser of Clermont-Auvergne and Julian White ready to arrive.

Relentless

Fast-forward six years. Cian Healy has continued his relentless climb to the top of the word rankings of number ones. The other four have either retired or moved on.

In their place, the Leinster Academy has been able to develop propping options from within rather than being forced to look outside the club for the calibre of player required to keep the club competitive in Europe.

McGrath, 24, made his international debut last November with an hour spent in the company of Samoa and added seven more appearances, five in the Six Nations. The St Mary's College man offers a different skills-set to Healy as a physically bigger, more traditional prop with a real work ethic. He has shown undeniable improvement to overtake Dave Kilcoyne and Tom Court at Ireland.

Thirty-four-year-old Cork man Mike Ross is a proven operator, especially at the set-piece, most notably at the scrum, where he has been Ireland's cornerstone since the 2011 Six Nations.

There has been increasing evidence in recent weeks that Moore is on the verge of mounting a challenge to overtake Ross, though he was playing for Lansdowne in the All-Ireland League last season.

That is a measure of the rapid rise of the Castleknock College-educated 22-year-old, now firmly established on the international stage with five caps for Ireland, all in the Six Nations.

The sudden and serious heart ailment that has blighted Ireland hooker Richardt Strauss' season has come as a benefit to Seán Cronin in his ongoing quest to convince the unconvinced about his basics for the position of throwing and scrummaging.

The birthday boy is 27 today and eight of his 35 caps have come this season, all of them off the bench.

Strauss is slowly working his way back to where he was when he won his four Ireland caps last season and the superb form from the Heineken Cup seasons of 2011 and 2012.

Three Ireland internationals in Healy, Cronin and Moore were replaced by three others in McGrath, Strauss and Ross in the 65th minute at Ravenhill on Friday night.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has stated his plan to have two international standard players for every position by the time of the 2015 World Cup.

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor already has that all along his front row.


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