Sunday 25 February 2018

The Insider: Journey into the unknown excites us

Next two weeks will be like nothing most of us have seen before - and we can't wait!

Luke McGrath arrives in South Africa. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Luke McGrath arrives in South Africa. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Luke McGrath - Player Diary

As we get set for a first Leinster tour to South Africa, I couldn't help but look back on my own experiences during the summer. The tour to the USA and Japan was my first Irish senior tour and what an incredible experience it was. It wasn't just about pulling on the Irish jersey again, it was also about an opportunity to travel to these places and that in itself was a great experience. And I think that is where most of us are for the upcoming Leinster trip too.

It's a massive opportunity for the 28 selected to pull on that jersey and represent the Leinster players at home and the supporters, but also to experience playing in a new country, new environment and culture.

That is how it played out during the summer anyway. The week of the USA game was brilliant for example. We trained hard when we had to; however, the down time we had was unreal. I managed to see all the popular sites in Manhattan but also I caught up with a few schoolmates who are based there.

But then there was the rugby side to it and upskilling your knowledge base. Playing in heat for a start! At kick-off it was 32 degrees. I came on for the last 20 minutes and couldn't believe how hot it was. All new experiences.

Then there is the travel issue. The travel from USA to Japan was a challenge. We left New York on a Sunday morning and arrived in Japan Monday night local time. This meant dealing with jet lag as well as less time to prepare for a Test match.

Another new experience was that on the Tuesday the team was read out and I was given my first start for Ireland. There is huge responsibility with a starting position so I had butterflies all week but when the whistle blew on the Saturday afternoon, I managed to overcome them. Again though new elements to a match week that we all learned from.

Luke McGrath tackles Alex Cuthbert of Cardiff Blues last week. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Luke McGrath tackles Alex Cuthbert of Cardiff Blues last week. Photo: SPORTSFILE

My parents made it over for the Test match so it was a special moment seeing them in the stand after the game. They have been very supportive all the way through my career so for them to travel that far to see me play was a proud moment.

On the tour three Leinster players made debuts in Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Rory O'Loughlin and I was delighted for them but especially for Rory. Rory and I grew up just a hundred yards from each other and both attended St Michael's College. He played a massive part in the way we performed last season for Leinster so the cap was well deserved. It was a memorable moment for our families seeing us wear green together.

So now a second tour in three or so months and the chance to build on that rugby education. And it does all add up. I got my first bit of game-time of the season against Cardiff last Friday night. I am always nervous ahead of the first game of the season and how it will go. There is only so much fitness you can do to prepare yourself but there is nothing quite like match fitness, so, I was happy to get nearly 70 minutes under my belt.

So to the tour. Like USA and Japan there is the element of the unknown regarding the challenge that awaits us over in South Africa. We are set to play the Kings tomorrow and the Cheetahs the following Friday. Both teams have shown a lot of threats throughout their last couple of games so we know how difficult it will be especially over in unknown territories to us.

Leinster's Rory O'Loughlin. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Rory O'Loughlin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

I am though somewhat familiar with the country itself as I had my Under 20s World Cup in South Africa in 2013. We spent three weeks in Cape Town. A memorable time, made even more special as we beat South Africa in the opening game but it obviously woke the beast inside them as they duly went on to win the competition! I remember how rugby-mad the whole country was, they really get behind their teams so will definitely be heading into some loud atmospheres.

I also feel this will be a great opportunity for the squad to come together even more. As I said earlier, these tours away build stronger relationships off the field. It should be a positive experience for us all as long as we get two performances and two wins to match.

Irish Independent

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