Sunday 25 February 2018

'We have to put doubt in their mind'- Ireland's Jack McGrath keen to maintain unbeaten French record

Jack McGrath starts in the front row for Ireland
Jack McGrath starts in the front row for Ireland

Tom Rooney

Irish prop Jack McGrath is confident that the scrummaging issues which saw Ireland concede ground to Wales last weekend have been duly rectified and should not resurface against France on Saturday.

If anything took the sheen off Ireland’s brave performance at Aviva Stadium on Sunday, it was sight of their pack being repeatedly shunted backwards by the Welsh eight in the moments preceding Taulupe Faletau’s first half try.

From a viewer’s perspective at least, when one scrum dominates another it can relay an impression of sheer emasculation.

Of course, nobody but the initiated know exactly what’s going on when 16 giants lock limbs in an attempt to shove each into less favourable positions.

In the absence of Mike Ross and Marty Moore, Ireland have had to call on third and fourth choice tight head props, Nathan White and Tadhg Furlong, so circumstances are far from optimum.

According to McGrath, who contributed a storming 80 minutes against Wales, things are not as dire as they are currently being perceived.

“We probably got on the wrong side of the referee a little bit," the loose head prop said. "There are a few things that went against us; we probably weren’t smart enough in certain areas and let Wales away with certain things.

“As much as them doing some things, we weren’t doing other things as well. I think there was too much read into it, which is probably a good thing for us. It keeps us focussed for this week and a big scrum performance on Saturday.”

Two hours before Joe Schmidt named an unchanged front row to take on France, his counterpart Guy Noves announced three new faces in his tight five from the narrow win over Italy, with two of those coming at prop.

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Jefferson Poiriot and Uni Antonio , who both came off the bench against the Azzurri, have been drafted in ahead of Eddy Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani. McGrath wasn’t particularly shocked upon hearing of Noves’ augmentations, though in terms of the head-to- head game, Antonio is a change in  specimen to Slimani.

The evidence suggests that the French will use the entirety of their front row resources in the Stade de France, so the Leinster prop isn’t sweating over the prospect of the scrum dynamic changing.

“He’s (Antonio) a little bit different to Slimani in body shape so there’s a little bit of a different plan there. But for us as a pack it’s not too much different in what we’re trying to do. We’ve obviously got a few things to improve on from the weekend.

“That’s the thing about the French; they usually change their whole front row after 50 minutes. It’s always been the case, so no matter the work you do, you’re always going to be seeing either prop at some stage. You have to do your homework on all of them.”

As an Irish international, the 26-year-old occupies a rather spoilt position when it comes to France and, indeed, the championship.

Now heading into his third Six Nations, the previous two have yielded him a winner’s medal. What’s more, he’ll line out against Les Bleus for a fourth time when earning his 27th cap this weekend, and he's been on the right side of the result every time thus far.

His demeanour doesn't suggest as much, possibly because if Ireland fail to do anything but win, the dream of three-in-row is all but over.

“I think it’s very important (victory), yeah definitely. It’s going to be an uphill climb if we don’t win. We realise how tough it is going over there; only two Irish teams have won over there and one has drawn.

“We’ve beaten them the last couple of times we’ve played them, so they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder. We going to have to stuck in early and put a bit of doubt in their mind,” McGrath said. 

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