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'I didn't think I played that well' - Jack McGrath's high standards

The loosehead prop was man of the match on his international debut but says there is room for improvement.

McGrath says he felt emotional during the anthem.
McGrath says he felt emotional during the anthem.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

MAN OF THE match on his Ireland debut; surely Jack McGrath was happy with that?

“It’s hard to know. To be honest, I didn’t think I played that well. I just went out to do a role and was a cog in the team and it went from there.”

Understatement is a trait common to rugby players after their best performances, but while the loosehead prop admitted he was “delighted” to have been highlighted as Ireland’s best player on the night, he appeared genuinely unfussed by his own performance.

That speaks volumes of the standards he has set for himself, the same self-demand that will see him put pressure on Cian Healy over the coming season for both province and country. There is also a hint of McGrath’s humility in his refusal to trumpet his magnificent showing against Samoa.

In the days approaching this encounter, the 24-year-old spoke of being pleased to “honour” his family by taking to the pitch for Ireland and it came across as genuine pride. After his commanding scrum performance against the lauded Samoans, he was equally honest, revealing the level of passion he had felt in the pre-game build-up.

Yeah, it was very emotional. I was welling up a bit, but there’s nothing bad about that when you’re lining up for your country. During the anthems a bit, and I had a few nice texts from family and friends, which were nice.”

McGrath beat his direct opponent Logovi’i Mulipola in the first three scrums before the Leicester man limped off the pitch, and the even bigger James Johnston was repeatedly dominated as the game developed. It was a phenomenally powerful scrummaging display from McGrath, given that he was making his international bow.

So what went into the performance? How did the Leinster prop prepare to take on two gigantic tightheads?

imageMcGrath highlighted his pre-game analysis as essential to performing well. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne.

“I think a lot of video work during the week went into it, and with Besty and Rossy beside me it’s great; having the lads behind me too. It’s basically just a lot of preparation and going through video, trying not to take a step back and just going after them, showing people you should be there.”

That refusal to take a step back was evident on several of the engagements against Johnston in particular. The Harlequins man’s 140kg weight means that he will almost always win the ‘hit’ phase of the scrum (even though that element has been greatly reduced under the new directives). As expected, that’s exactly what Johnston, and Mulipola before him, did to McGrath but his efforts to fight back were inspirational.

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The temptation under a ‘hit’ of that force is to shift the feet backward or collapse downwards, but with his own impressive 122kg bulk and excellent core strength, McGrath was able to drive back at the bigger man, “going after” him as he had planned. Ireland’s scrum excellence had other factors, but McGrath’s contributions were vital.

Following this man of the match performance on debut from the 24-year-old, Cian Healy may be feeling the heat and will have to produce a response if he is selected to start against the Wallabies. It’s promising for Joe Schmidt that he has two men competing for the loosehead position, with several other candidates waiting in the wings.

McGrath says decisions as to the pecking order over the coming season are in the hands of Schmidt, but that himself and Healy will continue to challenge each other.

We are good pals. I think we push each other well and we give each other tips and all that sort of stuff. He’s a great fella and I’ve got the utmost respect for him. I think what Joe does is his own business, but all I can do is perform and enjoy myself.”

That’s certainly the case for McGrath at the moment, and his pleasure to be sporting a black eyer in the aftermath of the game was another sign of his down to earth approach.

“Yeah, it shows you’re in the game I think and I always like to get a few knocks in the game. Unfortunately, it was my own player, Dev Toner. He’s fairly lanky and awkward so a few lads have caught elbows and knees off him over the years.”

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Murray Kinsella

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