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‘Clutch player’ Ross Byrne ready to shine with Ireland – Luke McGrath


Luke McGrath during a Leinster Rugby squad training session at UCD

Luke McGrath during a Leinster Rugby squad training session at UCD

Luke McGrath during a Leinster Rugby squad training session at UCD

Leinster’s Luke McGrath admits the dressing-room feels “strange” with 20 players on Ireland duty at the moment, but believes the window provides a valuable opportunity for younger players to make an impression.

Leo Cullen’s squad will be devoid of 20 Ireland players over the next two months, who are busy preparing for their Six Nations opener against Wales on February 4.

McGrath has 19 international caps to his name, but has not featured for Ireland since their World Cup semi-final defeat to the All Blacks in 2019. At 29 years old, he is one of the more experienced players remaining in camp this month.

Although it’s quieter around the corridors of their UCD base now, he expects the younger talent to soon find their voice, with URC tests against Cardiff, Dragons and Edinburgh coming up.

​“It’s very quiet, but we addressed it. It’s a massive opportunity for a lot of younger lads,” said McGrath, ahead of Leinster’s URC clash against Cardiff at the RDS on Saturday.

“It’s very strange, even though I have seen it over the last few Six Nations. We have a senior changing room and an academy one, and I think there’s only six senior lads there at the minute.

“I can see how keen a lot of the younger lads are to train and play as well. They are great weeks. We talked about everyone bringing energy, because we’re going to be in this group for the next three or four games.

“A lot of the senior lads would speak more often. It’s just about encouraging the younger lads to speak up. It’s way more quiet, especially on the pitch. It’s very important that fellas communicate on the pitch. Hopefully, they’ll find their voice as the week goes on, I’m sure they will.”

Leinster are currently on an incredible run of 16 wins from 16 in all competitions. Cullen’s side are 11 points clear at the top of the URC table, and topped their Champions Cup Pool with a 26-point victory against Racing 92 last weekend.

McGrath is pleased his side are riding on the crest of a wave, but insists they must not get ahead of themselves before their Champions Cup last-16 tie against Ulster in the spring.

“It’s 10 weeks to the next game, so much can happen,” said McGrath, who won his 50th European cap at the Aviva last Saturday.

“We’re in great form at the minute. Garry Ringrose summed it up in the changing rooms after (Racing) and said, ‘Just never forget all the hard work we’ve put in, keep pushing each other’.

“Ulster is so far away at the minute. There’s a full Six Nations on before, form can change and players can dip in and out. For us, it’s just about getting the younger lads more experience. You never know who will be called upon in 10 weeks’ time.

“The interpros are so different, there’s just an extra bite and spice to it. Ulster are well used to playing in the Aviva at this stage. It will be a huge test, but it’s brilliant. These are the games you want to play in.”

McGrath also praised his team-mate Ross Byrne, who earned a place in Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad last week, with the No 9 labelling the out-half as a “clutch player” and suggesting that his match-winning penalty against Australia last November has changed how Irish supporters view Byrne.

“He does the basics incredibly well, I’ve always held him in the highest regard,” added McGrath of Byrne.

“He lives for those pressure moments. His kicking for goal is exceptional, there’s not many players out there who are better. He’s been playing brilliantly for the last four years. I’m so delighted for him and really looking forward to seeing him in the Six Nations.”

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