Thursday 19 September 2019

We want to end PRO14 barren spell - Jack McGrath

Jack McGrath is keen to play his part in the season finale for Leinster on Saturday. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack McGrath is keen to play his part in the season finale for Leinster on Saturday. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Twenty-five appearances for club and country later, 1,023 minutes, a Grand Slam and a Champions Cup medal secured, and yet Jack McGrath's insatiable desire for success shows no signs of abating in the season that keeps on giving.

There have been other campaigns that McGrath has clocked up more game-time, purely because he was both Leinster and Ireland's first-choice loosehead, but even still, he has played a major role this season.

McGrath's fellow prop Cian Healy. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
McGrath's fellow prop Cian Healy. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

His battle with Cian Healy has been one of the most fascinating in Irish rugby over the last few years as both players continue to bring the best out of each other.

McGrath, however, will be hoping that he has done enough to earn a starting berth in Saturday's Guinness PRO14 final.

It is not always the case, but generally when a player is put up for media duties at the start of the week, it means that he is in line to start.

Whether that is Leinster trying to throw the Scarlets off their scent remains to be seen, but there is plenty of logic in starting with McGrath at the Aviva Stadium.

Healy has rediscovered his best form and has gotten through a mountain of work this season, so from that end, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster may opt for the fresher man.

McGrath got the nod against Munster and did well, before Healy came off the bench to devastating effect, along with his fellow front-row replacements.

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Regardless of what happens on Saturday, this season has been a success for Leinster, but try telling that to the players and they won't fully buy it.

This squad is on the verge of writing themselves into the history books by winning the double, and for them, that is all that matters.

The Champions Cup success is already a distant memory, which was summed up by the manner in which Leinster dispatched Munster.

Europe has been parked for now, and given that it has been four years since they were last PRO14 champions, their sets are firmly set on adding even more silverware to the collection.

"Obviously it's in the back of your head, but it's not the driving factor, because we haven't won the league since 2014, so it's been a barren old spell," McGrath insisted.

"We've topped the league and not gotten anything from it. Guys are taking it as a different competition. We're playing for those 55 guys who got us to this point.

"To get over last weekend was huge for us, with the changes that we had, the guys we were missing."

Leinster's attacking game has reached new heights this season, which is in no small part due to Lancaster's influence.

On a more broader scale, however, Ireland have placed a greater emphasis on players from all four provinces having great skill levels, regardless of the number on their back.

Tadhg Furlong has typified that more than most, but others are slowly following suit. Last weekend, McGrath's sumptuous inside pass for James Lowe to set up Jack Conan's try was outstanding, and perhaps deserved more praise than it actually got.

"It was just kinda off the cuff," the 28-year-old said. "I think that is the way we are trying to play now, unstructured (but) comfortable.

"The most dangerous thing about something is being unpredictable. We don't want another team to know what we are going to do at all times because they can just plan it out for their whole week and know exactly what we are going to do.

"So if we have a few aces up our sleeves throughout the game that teams don't see coming it is much harder to defend, it ultimately means we can put them under more pressure."

Being unpredictable against a team who you are about to cross swords with for a fourth time this season is challenging, but Leinster will back themselves to come up with one last push against the Scarlets.

The Champions Cup semi-final hammering will be fresh in the minds of both sets of players, yet it is difficult imaging the defending champions being as poor in Dublin again.

"It's going to be a funny one, we know each other pretty well, for us it is back to basics," McGrath maintained.

"I thought our game-plan in the Aviva worked pretty well, but they are going to have taken lessons from that about being able to counteract that so we are going to bring a few different little things. But I think on a day like a final you can't change too much because you need to go to your strengths to put them under pressure.

"To play against us is unpredictable and they are unpredictable. They pretty much did to Glasgow what they did to us last year."

While the Scarlets will attempt to use the hurt of last month's semi-final defeat to their benefit, McGrath and several of his team-mates are fuelled by an altogether different pain.

"I don't know if you'd call it lucky or unlucky but I am around long enough to remember when we won a Heineken Cup (2011) at the time and then going to a final and not being able to get over the line so there is that experience and bit of bitterness," he added.

"A lot of great guys have walked through that door at Leinster and not done that so that is definitely a driving factor."

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