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Jack's at the head of pack


Ireland's Jack McGrath. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Jack McGrath. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Jack McGrath. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

CIAN HEALY will not make the concluding rounds of the Heineken Cup pool. Neither is he certain to make the start of Ireland's Six Nations campaign.

Leinster's Jack McGrath would seem to hold first call in a quality queue behind Healy, one which also numbers in it Munster's Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin and Ulster's Tom Court.

The depth of strength can be gauged from the fact that 2013 British and Irish Lion Court is probably ranked at number four on this chart given current form and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt's selection choices.

It wasn't that long ago McGrath considered taking the train to Connacht or the plane to somewhere more glamorous, in rugby terms, before last season's definitive breakthrough arrived.

"It's definitely something I considered at one stage.

"But then I was lucky enough to break into the squad and get a bit of game time and it's gone from there," he said.

The 24-year-old racked up his 50th cap last week against Ulster, in his fourth season since making his Leinster debut against Glasgow Warriors in April 2010.

The presence of Springbok Heinke van der Merwe meant McGrath did not have to be rushed.

Schmidt waited until he was sure he was really ready, making his first European appearance in the Amlin Cup quarter-final away to London Wasps last April.



It came 18 days short of three years after his senior debut, followed quickly by another cameo from the bench against Biarritz Olympique in the semi-final.

The substance of McGrath's impact was garnered by Schmidt's decision to start him against Stade Francais in the Amlin final, with Healy placed to bring a change of pace from the bench.

Connacht coach Pat Lam has cast doubts about the ambition of players, who are content to bide their time at Leinster when they could be earning game experience out West.

The trail west from Leinster to Connacht is a well worn one, made by players not deemed good enough by the Leinster Academy or, indeed, Leinster proper.

"With the players that have left here and gone to there, they have a point to prove to their old team-mates, they really want to get one over on them," said McGrath.

"The likes of Nathan White, for example, if he's playing I could be up against him.

"Then, there's Paul O'Donohoe and Jason Harris-Wright."

Hooker Harris-Wright was a year ahead of McGrath at the Academy; Dave McSharry – he is injured at present – a year behind.

Wing Fionn Carr has rebounded from East-to-West, playing for both provinces in two different spells. Centre Kyle Tonetti and wing Matt Healy are two other products of the Leinster system.

It all points towards a degree of familiarity and retribution in mind for a batch of Connacht's troops that makes Leinster, maybe, their most valuable scalp.