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'His attitude is that of a serial winner' - McFarland hails Jack McGrath's response to injury blow

McFarland’s Ulster gear up for Challenge Cup semi-final against Leicester Tigers on Friday night.

McGrath: recovering from hip surgery (file photo).
McGrath: recovering from hip surgery (file photo).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ULSTER HEAD COACH Dan McFarland claims he has been left with a massive amount of admiration for Jack McGrath after the prop’s reaction to being ruled out for the remainder of the season.

The former British and Irish Lion went for surgery on a hip injury last week and is currently recovering in England, and he will not see any more action in a campaign in which he was restricted to just three appearances.

Ulster certainly missed him in their Guinness Pro14 run-in as they finished second in Conference A behind Leinster, and he likely would have played a major role in their Challenge Cup run-in as well.

However, despite knowing that his season was likely over when he went for the surgery, McFarland has revealed that, rather than take a backseat role, McGrath instead stepped up his involvement with the senior team to help them in their bid for silverware.

“He’s definitely a big miss on the pitch. We’ve some good looseheads but the bottom line is that Jack is a British [and Irish] Lion, he’s a serial winner, his attitude is that of a serial winner. He knows what needs to be done on a personal level, he knows what needs to be done in a team environment,” said McFarland.

“Interestingly, Jack’s first go-to when he wasn’t going to be involved in training wasn’t to become a wallflower. Jack’s go-to was to attend every training session, it was to pester Roddy and myself to find out what he could do and be doing.

“I’ve a massive amount of admiration for him not just as a rugby player but as a human being. He desperately wants these fellas to win and he’s willing to put his heart and soul into that.”

However, the former Leinster man was still able to see the funny side of things, as McFarland added: “He sent me a picture of his scar and I think he did it deliberately because he knows I’m squeamish about that sort of thing.

“Adam McBurney told him. He missed training one morning to have two teeth pulled and sent me a picture of the two bleeding teeth in the dentist. I was nearly sick and got really angry so I think McBurney put him up to it.

“Jack’s scar, it looks like they’ve replaced his whole leg. But he’s in good form taking the mickey out of me.”

In McGrath’s absence, Eric O’Sullivan and Andrew Warwick will continue their tandem on the left side of the scrum when Ulster head to Welford Road to face Leicester Tigers in their Challenge Cup semi-final.

It certainly stands to reason that if Ulster are going to win the second-tier European tournament then they’ll have done it the hard way having already seen off Harlequins and Northampton Saints in England and now having to make the trip across the Irish Sea once more to reach the final.

Despite falling foul of the luck of the draw, the province are still considered favourites to prevail and claim their first silverware in 15 years – odds likely boosted by the fact they have won twice on the road to get this far – but McFarland doesn’t put much stock into having that tag placed on them.

“We’ve played two good games, definitely, both away from home. We’ve performed very well in those but we’ve won the games because we’ve played well. We haven’t won them because we’re favourites, we’ve won them because we performed well in both of those games,” he insisted.

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“It wouldn’t matter whether we’re favourites for the competition or favourites for the game next week, it won’t matter. We will need to play to win at Welford Road, it’s as simple as that.

“On a semi-final day you really do hope you play one of your best games in the year. But there’s an opposition out there who are going after trying not to allow you to play that game.

“Leicester do have the capacity to be able to do that to teams – they are able to put them off the way that they play and there are certain thresholds within areas of the game that we’ll have to reach if we’re going to be able to allow our game to flourish.”

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