Sunday 19 January 2020

'I wasn't far away from starting third Lions Test,' says McGrath

Jack McGrath after the Lions’ third Test in New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jack McGrath after the Lions’ third Test in New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When Jack McGrath first burst onto the scene, for a while at least it seemed as though he would largely be playing back-up to Cian Healy but the manner in which he has overtaken his Leinster and Ireland team-mate, made his Lions experience all the more challenging.

Speak to any player and they will tell you how coming off the bench is an altogether different ask to starting a game and easing yourself into its intensity.

Eddie Jones has coined the phrase "finishers" for his England replacements but it's been a while since McGrath has regularly been asked to play the impact role.

Playing second fiddle to Mako Vunipola, there were plenty of people that felt that the Ireland loosehead should have gotten the nod for the decisive third Test in New Zealand, and even though there was a natural disappointment for the player himself when the call didn't come, he is happy enough to take the positives from what was an enjoyable experience overall.

"I'd have been disappointed if I wasn't involved at all in any of the three tests," McGrath said, speaking at the launch of Leinster's Canterbury home jersey.

"It's a team sport. It was a role I had to fulfil and I was happy to do it. There was a lot of talk in that last Test but I didn't think about it.

"There was a lot of hot air being blown around. I can just do what I can do and at the end of the day it is down to the coaches.

"I felt I wasn't a million miles away but it is down to the coaches. I still got to perform a role and I was happy to do so. Overall I was happy. I was involved in seven of 10 games, which was pretty cool."

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McGrath featured in all three Tests and played his part in securing the drawn series. In the decisive game, he was introduced at a crucial juncture with 20 minutes left and as he recalled, he had little time to digest his role's importance.

"The last two scrums . . . I thought the one before that was going to be the last scrum," he added. "Whatever happened, the ball flicked out, Rhys Webb got it and went up the field and there was a knock-on somewhere along the line. Before that last scum you are thinking this is the biggest scrum of my career; 10 seconds later you are going 'F**k this is the biggest scrum of my career.' You don't get to have that many times in your life. It was pretty cool to be able to say that.

"You just have to back your drill, what you have done hundreds and even thousands of time before in training and games, Leinster games and international games.

"It was more so back the drill, don't do anything different. I haven't really seen that last game back but it could have been a good scrum or bad scrum I can't really remember but they were the two biggest scrums of my career."

Irish Independent

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