Jack McGrath: Castrogiovanni has every trick in the scrum book – You have to earn his respect
Leinster prop Jack McGrath is relishing the prospect of locking horns with Italian tight head Martin Castrogiovanni in Rome in the Six Nations opener this weekend.
Joe Schmidt's side begin their championship defence away to Jacques Brunel's Italy on Saturday and McGrath, who will be winning his 13th international cap, is expecting a challenging day at the office for the Irish pack.
"The scrum and lineout is their bread and butter, always has been," he said today at Carton House.
"It's going to be really tough. We’ve been doing a lot of prep, video work, scrum and maul. It's an area we are going to have to take them on.
"That's where they pride themselves on and if we can take that away from them from the start we are a step towards winning the game."
The 25 year-old St. Mary's prop has been given the vote of confidence by Schmidt and he could well come up against the legendary figure of Martin Castrogiovanni.
McGrath admits that he has followed the grizzly Italian prop's career with interest and believes you must earn the respect of the 107 cap international to have any chance of success in the tight exchanges.
"Castro has been there. He has every trick in the book but with Rory [Best] beside me and [Mike] Rossy on the other side, I'd be confident of going in and being able to do a job and hopefully cause a bit of damage.
"I've been watching him for years. He's the guy if you are a young tight head you look to. Other tight heads talk about him.
"There is respect there, but you have got to go in and make him respect you.
"It's up to us as a pack to really get stuck in.
On the other side of the scrum will be Mike Ross who fought off the challenge of Marty Moore at tight head.
Ross has played little rugby in recent weeks but his provincial team-mate is more than confident that a big performance lies in wait in what will be a cauldron of an atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico.
"He's an experienced type of guy, he knows his body. He knows what fitness to do to look after himself. The coaches have to trust him that he hasn't played in the last few weeks to put him in there. He's well able for it."
McGrath has proven to be an able understudy for the injured Cian Healy for both Leinster and Ireland, but has admitted that the season has been a steep learning curve.
Lauded for his performances against South Africa and Australia during the clean sweep in the Autumn internationals, he also experienced the flip-side when the Leinster scrum was dismantled by Harlequins in the Champions Cup soon after.
McGrath says despite the downer from a poor performance, often only minor surgery is required to rectify the problem.
"It happens to every front rower."
"It's just one of those things. The world feels like it's falling down around you at the time, but when you actually go back to the drawing board there isn't much you have to change, it's just you got a few things wrong."
Most expect that if McGrath and his colleagues in the scrum are not at the top of their game in Rome, it could be a long afternoon for the reigning champions.