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Dublin: 11°C Monday 17 May 2021

'If you punched everyone who said that, you'd be in serious trouble!'

Jack McGrath is looking to front a big Irish scrum performance in Twickenham today.

AS CASES OF being mistaken for someone else go, Cian Healy is not the worst person to be misidentified for.

Unless you’re Jack McGrath.

Jack McGrath Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

While Healy has been tormented by injuries in recent years, allowing him only to intermittently remind us of his quality, his loosehead rival has established himself as the first-choice for both Leinster and Ireland.

Still only 26, McGrath already has 27 caps under his belt and has developed into a vital cog in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side. He has played more than 70 times for Leinster too, nailing down the number one shirt, and yet he is still confused for Healy by the more casual fan.

“It still happens, but sure they probably don’t know the game as well as others would so you can understand that in a way,” says McGrath, who is increasingly one of the main voices Schmidt and the Ireland management opt to send in front of the media.

They don’t know a lot about rugby and if they look similar it happens, but it’s happening a little bit less now actually.”

McGrath does his best to avoid allowing his temper to rise when someone says, ‘Good game, Cian.’

“I would take it massively personally, yeah, but sure if you punched everyone who said that to you, then you’d be in serious trouble,” says McGrath with a hearty laugh. “You’d get tired as well! It’s not happening as much, so that’s probably a bit nicer.”

The fact that McGrath is becoming more and more recognisable to the average rugby punter is a testament to the impact he has made under Schmidt since his former Leinster boss handed him a Test debut against Samoa in November 2013.

Ireland’s Jack McGrath and Devin Toner McGrath is a key player for Ireland. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Starting Healy ahead of McGrath in the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina was arguably one of Schmidt’s biggest selection errors in that tournament, given the continued quality of the younger loosehead’s output.

With Healy on the comeback trail during the opening two rounds of the current Six Nations, and Schmidt apparently not trusting Munster man James Cronin, McGrath played the full 80 minutes of a brutal meeting with Wales and got through another 73 minutes six days later against an equally physical French team.

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Those are remarkable numbers for a prop, but then McGrath is one of the finest front row athletes in the country. Not as dynamic a ball carrier as Healy in his prime, not as explosive, but with a huge engine and the agility to be a nuisance at the breakdown and a rucking presence.

Healy is back on the Ireland bench this weekend and Schmidt is likely to give the experienced loosehead a decent stint on the pitch to add his explosive ability. It means McGrath can unleash everything of himself into 50 minutes or so he plays.

It’s the way you have to do it in international rugby,” says the St. Mary’s man. “You have to give it your all every time. You can’t wait to get into it because it’s just so quick and you’ll get left behind.

“The way we want to play, the tempo we want to play at and the tempo England have started playing at, we’re going to have to be up to speed straight away and into them from the first minute.”

The scrum will be a key point again this weekend for Ireland, with tries from that possession platform for Wales and the French having been such a disappointment.

Jack McGrath alongside the Irish forwards McGrath and Ireland at yesterday's captain's run. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Publicly, Ireland say the return of Mike Ross at tighthead will make no great difference and they have been at pains to underline Nathan White’s quality, but it’s obvious that the Leinster veteran should give his teammates increased confidence.

Ireland have always preached about their squeaky-clean intentions to stay square and legal at scrum time, but that has been something of a downfall for them in the opening two rounds of the championship.

McGrath agrees the Irish scrum has to be “streetwise,” taking matters into their own hands if the refereeing interpretation is not to taste. A huge scrum battle awaits against Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola and Paul Hill off the bench.

I wouldn’t say we’re bracing ourselves for it, because that’s as if we’re not prepared for it or we’re going to be waiting for it,” says McGrath. “For us, we want to go over there and meet them head on and have a good ding-dong battle with them.

“You have to go over there and you have to meet them head on, especially in Twickenham because it’s such a cauldron and that’s where they see their strong point. That’s where we need to try and take that away from them.”

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Murray Kinsella

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