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'Sometimes it takes a few times to learn lessons': Leinster players striving to put RWC behind them

Jack McGrath and Devin Toner tell us how they’re managing the transition back to their day job.

McGrath scored a try on his return to the blue jersey on Sunday.
McGrath scored a try on his return to the blue jersey on Sunday.
Image: Maurilio Boldrini/INPHO

THERE CAN BE few things worse for a professional rugby player than the two weeks after a World Cup quarter-final exit.

The professional thing to do would be to move on to the next immediate fixture and forget about failure. Yet the human side can’t help but dwell on the disappointment and what-might-have-beens.

Ireland’s internationals filtered back in to provincial training and Pro12 fixtures last week, but the World Cup final loomed large over their efforts to switch gears for the bread and butter of league duty.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” says Jack McGrath, two weeks after finishing his first World Cup.

“Obviously it was disappointing to come up short against Argentina – probably a lesson learned on everyone’s behalf.”

Hopefully. Especially since the lesson learned is remarkably similar to the schooling Ireland received from Wales at the same stage four years ago.

“That’s true. But sometimes with lessons, it takes a few times to learn them,” says the Leinster prop with a rueful smile.

Jack McGrath dejected after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

McGrath was the first unforced replacement made by head coach Joe Schmidt after 51 minutes of the quarter-final after Luke Fitzgerald pulled Ireland back to within six points.

“It’s tough when you’re sitting on the bench and there’s nothing you can do. All you can do is try to get messages on to the players. But when they storm to 17 – 0 it’s hard to get back from. I thought we did pretty well to get back to 23- 20, but the final scoreline is a bit of a kick in the teeth.

[When you come on] what you’ve been saying to the players, try to do yourself: get line speed on, get stuck in to them. Because that’s the sort of game you have to play against Argentina, you have to be confrontational and be willing to go in to battle with them.”

The only member of the front five who was embroiled for the 80-minute battle was Devin Toner. When The42 spoke with the lock an hour after full-time on 19 October, the frustration of defeat was still incredibly raw, but his lament at the lack of defensive line-speed was as clear an explanation as anyone needed.

Today in UCD, Toner found himself turning back to the same hymn sheet. He hasn’t watched the game back yet and says he managed to move into Leinster mode fairly quickly. But if time can paper over the mental scars of the quarter-final, then it does not take much to poke holes in the thin veneer.

Jack McGrath, Devin Toner, Peter O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip Happier times: McGrath, Toner, O'Mahony and Heaslip take in a day's shooting in Derbyshire. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You’re always kind of thinking about it – I thought it was gone until ye started on about it again,” says the second row.

“You can’t go 17 – 0 down against a team like that and expect to come back in to it. We clawed back into it, but they came out of the blocks very fast and we just, we expected it, but we didn’t handle it well.

“We wanted to do that (start fast, build a lead) against them but it didn’t really work.”

With Schmidt’s Team Ireland review not due until Christmas week, the questions will still be swirling in players’ heads for some time. We can all see what happened, the question is, why couldn’t Ireland stop it?

That’s sport isn’t it? If everyone had the answers, everyone would be winning all the time. That’s what we have to look at at Christmas.

“They were getting outside us. A lot of it was our line-speed on D, soaking tackles, they were getting good balls out the back and they were getting around us. It all stemmed from that.”

Two weeks later, the World Cup is finally over and players can truly settle back in to the day job.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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