Monday 22 January 2018

Lancaster backs McGrath to impress

Stuart Lancaster is full of praise for Luke McGrath (pictured). Photo: Sportsfile
Stuart Lancaster is full of praise for Luke McGrath (pictured). Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Stuart Lancaster has backed Luke McGrath to make a big impression in the upcoming Six Nations as he looks to overtake Kieran Marmion in the pecking order.

With Conor Murray well established as Ireland's first-choice scrum-half, McGrath has been in fine form this season and will hope to add to the first cap that he won against Canada in November.

Lancaster has been impressed with McGrath's attitude as well as his performances on the pitch and the former England supremo believes he can build on that with Ireland.

"I think he'll be getting close," Lancaster insisted. "From my point of view, I think he's improved massively since I first arrived.

"I think the main thing he brings is a real athleticism and his ability to not only get the ball away quickly but to bring a running game into the equation, his kicking game has been good.

"But the best nines have a running threat and a passing threat and a kicking threat, and I think Luke has improved in all three and I think the try (against Montpellier) that he scored was a great example of that.

"The one the previous week, if you remember, he came down the short side and played in Rory O'Loughlin against Zebre, that's just Luke playing heads-up rugby. So I think he's really improved."

McGrath has been entrusted to captain Leinster this season which illustrates how highly he is regarded by the coaches and also how highly he is respected by the players.

The former St Michael's College student will turn 24 next week, a day before Ireland begin their Six Nations campaign in Scotland.

McGrath has started 13 games this season and has made the No 9 jersey his own since Eoin Reddan retired at the end of last season and has shown promising signs of developing a good understanding with Johnny Sexton.

Lancaster agreed that McGrath had become more vocal on the pitch but he admitted that it was all part of the development of all scrum-halves.

Heartbeat

"I think all nines are like that," he said. "That's exactly what you want; nines are the heartbeat of the team, they're the ones who drive everything. I've actually been into him and Jamison Gibson-Park to be more vocal because they're the ones who should be the heartbeat of the team and Luke has taken on that role well.

"I think he's captained the team, hasn't he, over the last while, which is great experience for him as well.

"But hopefully in the Six Nations... he has some good scrum-halves ahead of him as well but he's been knocking on the door, I would have thought."

Irish Independent

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