Thursday 23 May 2019

'I want to be picked on merit like all players'

Nick McCarthy. Picture: Sportsfile
Nick McCarthy. Picture: Sportsfile
Bryan Byrne, left, and Nick McCarthy of Leinster following the Guinness PRO14 Round 19 match between Leinster and Zebre at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

As Leinster Rugby scrum-half Nick McCarthy sits down to look ahead to the weekend fare against Benetton Rugby in the RDS, he does so as a reasonably content man, happy with his lot but also keen that his lot this season will be a stepping stone, in particular after injuries held him back last season.

"Yeah, last season between a few injuries I was disappointed that I didn't kick on as I felt it was a season where I could have contributed on the field that bit more.

"You do get frustrated too because everyone is saying to be patient and the chance will come but at times last season I felt I couldn't have done any more but you have to just put the head down and trust that the work you will do will be rewarded. And thankfully this season I've been really happy with the opportunities that I have had."

McCarthy made his debut against Toulon off the bench in the Champions Cup in 2015/'16 and you can understand therefore why he would have wanted to increase his match-day exposure last season beyond the four games he actually played. So far this season that stat sits on 16 games with three tries also to his name.

The 23-year-old, Michigan-born man is enjoying his time on the pitch and seeing the benefits.

"If I compare now to then the difference is huge. When I made my debut in December 2015 against Toulon, OK, it was only a few minutes off the bench at the end but looking back now I was so ill-prepared for what was to come. Today when I come into a game I have that bank of experience. I have knowledge or have seen situations or have dealt with big games on a more regular basis.

"There is a trust too. Not just in your own abilities but also from those around you. They trust you because they have played with you more and more regularly. And it's been great to get that exposure. Whether that's been starting in the RDS or coming off the bench in the Aviva against Saracens, it all helps."

There has been a lot of chatter this season about a heretofore unremarkable rule in rugby affecting antipodean players plying their trade in the northern hemisphere and in particular a team's ability to field only two such players in any match-day squad. It has been unremarkable because it hasn't affected Leinster Rugby. Until now.

Conundrum With the arrival of Messrs. Lowe and Fardy, in addition to the already in situ Jamison Gibson-Park, it left a selection conundrum on the desks of Leo Cullen and his coaches for every Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup game. While there have been plenty of raised eyebrows about the rule and its impact, the noise from HQ centre around this being nothing more than another dilemma on top of all the others when dealing with a squad of, to date, 53 players used. McCarthy sees the unfairness in the rule and the impact on three team-mates but beyond that he's not concerned about any rule, he's just focused on his own form and grabbing the opportunities that come his way.

"Obviously I was aware of the rule but it really hadn't impacted on anyone in here up until now. It is what it is, it's not ideal for the three lads obviously but for us as a group we are just delighted to have them in here.

"I can't let it impact me or cloud my view of the game or preparations. I want to be picked on merit like all players and that is where my focus lies. Training as well as I can and making the decisions as hard as possible for Leo come Saturday.

"The lads have been great and you see the same from them. They are competing not with each other but with the group for the same 23 jerseys as anyone else. Make it as difficult as possible for Leo and then perform and represent the group as best you can."

Negative McCarthy also insists that any perceived negative is far outweighed by what they have brought to the club.

"To be fair, the impact that all three have had on the club has been brilliant. Coming from different environments and different cultures. Sharing that knowledge, it's been great and for us to remain competitive across all competitions you need that depth."

As it stands, Leinster are more than competitive in their three competitions. Semi-finals already secure in the B&I Cup and the Champions Cup and one in the PRO14 within touching distance. Different levels and young and old all stepping up and driving each other.

"Absolutely. Look at Dan Leavy or James Ryan and how they have progressed. You only grow as a player from those games and getting the exposure to bigger and bigger challenges. I think we have a group in Leinster at present that thrive on these challenges."

There are enough challenges internally for McCarthy before he even starts to worry about Benetton tomorrow or even Scarlets.

"Luke, Jamison, Charlie, Hugh and I work really well as a group within the wider group. During the week it's competitive and we push each other but then your viewpoint shifts. So Thursday to game day on Saturday for example it's all about getting behind the two lads selected and that goes for all of us and I think we do that really well. We all want Leinster to win at the end of the week and whatever we can do to help that, we do.

"So whether that is helping to perfect little moves or kicking, we want to make sure that the two nines selected for the game are as best prepared as they can possibly be. Then back to fighting for that jersey again on Monday!"

This week they've been pushing each other for the visit of Benetton who have been noticeably more competitive in the PRO14 and are a single point off qualification for the Champions Cup spot next season.

"They're on a good run. They've taken points off teams that we struggled against and they've been very impressive in attack. But for us the motivation is that top spot in our Conference.

"It may yet go down to the last game against Connacht but it may not, a result this Saturday might secure that home semi-final.

"We want to get back to where we were last season. Within 80 minutes of a final but this time hopefully getting over the line. So the chance to do that this weekend against Benetton isn't lost on us and we've had a good week. We just need to do it now."

Irish Independent

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