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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 18 January, 2019

'It's an honour for myself and my family' - Jack McGrath on Ireland debut

The Leinster prop is excited about taking on Samoan mammoth Census Johnston on Saturday.

McGrath is in delighted ahead of his Ireland debut.
McGrath is in delighted ahead of his Ireland debut.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

NOVEMBER TESTS HAVE often been seen as a chance for international coaches to develop their options, blood new players and experiment with combinations that haven’t previously been used.

Joe Schmidt’s inclusion of Paddy Jackson at out-half, Chris Henry at openside flanker and Devin Toner in the second row against Samoa are all talking points within those categories, but it is the debut of Jack McGrath at loosehead prop that provides the real excitement.

Leinster have been blessed by the 24-year-old’s emergence in the last two seasons, particularly given the loss of Heinke van der Merwe to Stade Français during the summer. Indeed, the South African’s contributions for the province have rarely been missed thanks to the excellent form of the St. Mary’s club man. Now Ireland look set to benefit from the work rate and sheer bulk of McGrath.

While it was only this afternoon that the rugby public discovered that the Leinster prop will be making his debut against Samoa on Saturday, McGrath himself had been informed earlier in the week. He says was thrilled to be picked and admits it was difficult to keep under wraps.

I’m absolutely delighted. It’s an honour for myself and my family. I heard during the week but we were under strict orders to keep it quiet so that was the deal and we kept to it. I quietly told my family on Wednesday evening and just told them to keep it to themselves and very trustworthy people.”

McGrath has started four games for his province this season, already half as many as he did in the 2012/13 campaign. Playing games is the only way to get noticed according to the prop himself, who highlights the fact that the increased exposure he has had under Matt O’Connor has been helpful to his international claims.


McGrath is in dreamland ahead of the Samoa clash. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

“I think game time was a massive thing. For myself personally, I need a string of games just to get myself going and keep the fitness up. I think a lot of it comes down to injuries as well, being lucky with that and just being able to string a few decent performances together. That sort of capped it.”

And cap it he will. McGrath is set for his international bow on Saturday against a Samoan side who have an unparalleled level of mass at their disposal. Toulouse’s man mountain Census Johnston is likely to tog out directly opposite McGrath at scrum time, and his experience and strength present a true test. The debutant is aware of what Ireland are up against on Saturday.

They’re a very, very tough side. The spine of their team is from the Top 14 and the Premiership and they’re two of the best leagues in the world. For myself personally, Census Johnston is going to be a tough operator. So I’m really looking forward to that challenge.”

So far in his career McGrath has carried responsibility comfortably, although a 6ft 1ins, 122kg frame certainly means he has broad shoulders with which to do so. There is every reason to be optimistic about how he will fare against Johnston, who weighs in at 138kg. Despite his relative lack of experience, McGrath is a thrilling prospect and a big performance against Samoa would heap pressure on loose head incumbent Cian Healy.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, the man who has given McGrath his chance, is fully confident that the young prop will deliver. Past examples of his reliability mean the Kiwi has little doubt that the 24-year-old will make an impact.

“He played a lot more than Heinke [van der Merwe] last year and he started in the final of the Amlin. So there’s a lot of confidence in Jack, having seen him face up to some pretty strong challenges in the past and his performances have been really good this year.”

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Murray Kinsella

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