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McGrath relishing return to high-intensity after cameos in November

Leinster’s scrum-half had to be content with just five minutes of action before his return to blue last week.

Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

LUKE MCGRATH IS determined to rack up some meaningful minutes, not to mention crucial Champions Cup points, in the imminent back-to-back battles with Exeter Chiefs.

The Leinster scrum-half scored on his return to blue last weekend; a return that brought him back extremely fresh from a November Test window that gave him just five on-field minutes for Ireland.

Of course, McGrath was delighted to be awarded the two caps and dutifully worked to remain constantly switched on avoiding the temptation to grumble at the prospect of a fleeting cameo and the dreaded post-match fitness session.

“I think you have to play more than 20 minutes to get out of it usually,” says the scrum-half with a smile.

“You don’t want to come on with two minutes left, especially against Fiji when there’s a two-minute scrum on…

“It’s not ideal, but it’s being that last sub – so you’re covering a few positions – in a tight game especially, it’s a difficult spot to be in. You have to be professional.”

And McGrath is never short of that mark. He is a quiet leader in this Leinster side, first captaining his province at the ripe old age of 22 in January last year, and his presence alongside Jonathan Sexton will be key when Leinster travel to the home of the English champions on Sunday.

It’s a well-worn cliche for good reason that earning more Test minutes begins by performing on the home front. If Leinster manage to inflict a first home defeat of the season on Exeter Chiefs this Sunday it will give McGrath a personal boost-up closer to Conor Murray, but mostlye it will present the collective with a controlling stranglehold on Champions Cup pool 3.

“That’s been the talk today,” says McGrath not long removed from a team meeting to kick-start the week, “building on the Glasgow performance – which wasn’t perfect by any means – but it was an effective gameplan and we implemented it really well.

“Exeter are an incredible side: they hold onto the ball so well. Our defence is going to be tested like it probably hasn’t been to date this season;  repeated sets, some of the phases they go through – 20 to 30 phases – then you think you have them but they end up scoring a try. Their ball retention is brilliant, so a massive challenge ahead.”

“They play a really wide game with (Gareth) Steenson and (Henry) Slade, and then once they get into the 22, their D1/D2, pick-and-goes, their mauls, it just shows the variety they have, and their very well-coached. So we have to be ready for everything.”

“These next two games for Leinster are incredibly exciting. If you don’t get up for these games I don’t know what will. t’s why you pick up a ball at a young age, to play these games. If I get picked at Sandy park I’m sure it will be a great experience.”

A welcome chance to fully empty the tank after spinning his wheels in November.

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