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Ireland's Jack McGrath ready for monumental battle with Cian Healy

The two players are set to compete for the loosehead prop spot in the coming weeks.

McGrath on Healy:
McGrath on Healy: "I think any team would like to have him on their side."

JACK MCGRATH IS gearing up for a monumental battle with Cian Healy for Ireland’s loosehead prop spot in the coming weeks.

The Leinster pair have gone toe-to-toe for the number 1 jersey since Joe Schmidt’s appointment as Ireland coach.

When fit, Healy is unquestionably Ireland’s premier loosehead but McGrath has deputised superbly when called upon.

McGrath provided the perfect foil for Healy during the title-winning 2014 Six Nations campaign. Schmidt’s decision to rest Healy for the two-Test tour of Argentina the following summer allowed McGrath to stake his claim. The 25-year-old gave a good account himself against the Pumas with Healy’s subsequent hamstring injury giving McGrath the chance to impress once more in the November internationals.

McGrath delivered outstanding displays in the victories against South Africa and Australia and held onto the shirt for this year’s Six Nations with the returning Healy breathing down his neck throughout the tournament.

Healy eventually managed to usurp his provincial team-mate for the championship-clinching clash against Scotland in Murrayfield. Healy saw no action during the warm-up series having undergone neck surgery in May, but the 2013 Lions tourist is now back in action and McGrath is relishing the forthcoming selection battle.

“It’s been like that for the last two and a half years,” said McGrath.

“We do push each other and we do enjoy each other’s company. We learn off each other. If one gets the start, it’s no hard feelings. It’s like ‘best of luck’ but I’m going to come on and do a job and do the best I can and it’s vice versa. It’s a good tandem we have and it’s great for the group and it’s great for the team.”

“You’re always delighted to start and he’s a top quality player as we all know.

“He’s a guy who you want to have in your team and in your group because he’s a great bloke in the group. It’s great to have him back and it will be great to see him running out on the pitch on Saturday.”

When McGrath packs down for his first scrum against Canada on Saturday, he will have Iain Henderson providing considerable thrust from the second row.

“He’s a big man and I think any team would like to have him on their side. He’s a great guy to have on your team and a great guy to have behind you in the scrum.”

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“He’s a quality player and the depth we have in the second row is great now. There’s not much drop off if Donnacha or Dev is playing either so it’s great to have those options.”

Canada, shorn of Agen tighthead Jason Marshall due to injury, will rely on the propping duo of Hubert Buydens and Doug Wooldridge to anchor the scrum against Schmidt’s side.

Buydens and Woodridge should provide little worry for McGrath, or Healy when he is summoned from the bench, but bigger scrummaging tests are on the horizon.

The Romanians and the Azzurri will provide the Irish pack with stern examinations before France’s monstrous scrum rocks into Cardiff for that final Pool D encounter.

With Eddy Ben Arous, Rabah Slimani, Vincent Debaty, Uini Atonio and Nicolas Mas in reserve, Ireland will undoubtedly need a joint effort from McGrath and Healy for that seismic clash at the Millennium Stadium.

McGrath is happy for others to speculate about the Irish loosehead pecking order. He’s just going to concentrate on the job in hand… and the same goes for his friend and rival.

“It’s unspoken I suppose,” McGrath added. “There’s a lot of talk about it. I don’t listen to it. I’m just concentrating on my own game and trying to do the best for the team… and Cian’s doing the same.”

Originally published Thursday at 22.45

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