Wednesday 23 October 2019

Jack McGrath urged to avoid unnecessary 'distraction' of Irish team selection

Leinster's Jack McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Jack McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Rewind to 2017 and there was no question who was Ireland's number one No 1.

Jack McGrath was so established as a prop idol that Joe Schmidt felt it prudent to rest him from the spring trip to Italy.

A few months later, he toured New Zealand with the cream of British and Irish rugby.

That was then. Two years on, McGrath will more than likely miss out on another Italian job; except this time it will not be because he is being rested but because he is not required.

Clubmate Cian Healy has reasserted his dominance in the prop charts and with Dave Kilcoyne making a timely burst, McGrath is on the outside looking in.

He has made it back to Italy since 2017, at least; then again, when you're in a Leinster side heading to face an Italian side away from home - twice this season, too - there's a good chance you're struggling to get into the provincial first team, never mind the Irish set-up.

Depending on Joe Schmidt's Roman ruinations, McGrath might hope for some salvation should the coach decide that Healy requires a breather.

It's difficult to know if Saturday's audition against Zebre advanced his uncertain claims; at times, the Leinster front five struggled against their obdurate opponents.

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At HQ, the reflections on the weekend are so sombre, it is almost as if Leinster lost the game and were stranded overnight in Bologna airport, rather than romping to yet another five-pointer, scoring their 100th try en route to stretching their unassailable PRO14 conference lead.

"Frustrating," says John Fogarty, an assistant coach, aptly standing astride another Leinster driving force, Aircoach, who were announcing a sponsorship extension.

It remains to be seen whether McGrath will need a lift to the airport this week; a short drive to the RDS and a date with the execrable Southern Kings may be his best route towards regaining some of the eminence which made him a Lion two years ago.

Then, he couldn't play enough world-class rugby; perhaps there was too much and, as happens all, there came a lull.

Fitness is the key; some tanks, like Sean O'Brien, can hit the ground running; McGrath may need to empty the dirty petrol.

"He's clear in his head what he has to do," says Fogarty.

"That's the first point. Sometimes we bring players back, medically get them back really, really well.

"Fitness levels probably haven't been achieved. Jack was medically really good to come back and play. He probably was not at the top of his physical level part, so physically not where he needed to be.

"I think that's what his focus is now, to get himself really, really good.

"In terms of leadership in the squad for us and what he can do at the set-piece we're happy with the way he is moving along.

"And he's working very, very hard with the strength and conditioning lads to get himself physically good.

"I think that is what he needs to focus on. Mentally he is good and he's working his way through it."

Pressed as to whether McGrath might have earned himself a swift return to Italy this weekend, Fogarty dodged the pressure by suggesting his charge should do precisely the same.

"He needs not be distracted by all of that. He needs to focus on himself, focus on developing 80 minutes of play, developing his performance, getting his edge in here.

"I don't think he needs to be distracted by who is first, who is second.

"Where he is sitting, he just needs to get on with what he's getting on with. That's what we are helping him out with here."

Schmidt might opt for Sean Cronin as the hooker attempts to buck the sense that he can only finish, rarely start, for his country.

"For us here, Seán is someone who is a starter and he has started very well for us in the last season."

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