Ireland prop McGrath the victim of mistaken identity in Chicago

Yesterday’s press conferences threw up some odd moments.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

JACK MCGRATH MUST be hoping that the All Blacks have as little awareness of him as some of their media appear to have.

In one of those awkward moments that seem to go on interminably, a Kiwi journalist yesterday prefaced his question to McGrath with “Rory…” before going on to describe All Blacks hooker Dane Coles’ words praising Ireland captain Rory Best’s work rate.

The question was about how “Rory” saw Coles as an opponent, before loosehead prop McGrath stepped in to end the confusion.

“Emm… I’ll tell Rory that when I see him. I’m Jack McGrath, by the way. I’ll be going against Owen Franks at the weekend.

“He is a massively experienced operator, as are all the front row. It is going to be a hugely physical battle and it will be won and lost at scrum time.

“We’ve worked really hard on video to see where their strengths are and where to counter-act that. We’re a strong scrum so we’re going to have to maybe have a go at it.”

Another Kiwi journalist seized on the moment.

“Jack, on a scale of one to 10, how offensive is it being confused with Rory Best?”

Joe Schmidt was beaming beside his prop, evidently loving the case of mistaken identity and probably enjoying the fact that he could sit back without being questioned.

“Well he wears a scrum-cap sometimes,” said McGrath with a smile. “I’ve been called worse, let’s just say that. It’s not too bad; I don’t mind that. The calibre of the man, it’s not too bad to be compared to him.”

A humorous moment for most in the room, and thereafter the serious stuff of a 29th meeting with the All Blacks was on the agenda for McGrath, Schmidt, CJ Stander, Donnacha Ryan and Robbie Henshaw – all up for media duties yesterday.

Two hours before, the All Blacks had turned on the charm in their nearby team hotel, with head coach Steve Hansen showing a touch of class by beginning his press conference with congratulations to the Cubs and sympathies to Anthony Foley’s family.

Steve Hansen Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Hansen is always good value, even in this type of setting that can be so stale and sometimes utterly boring. He answers everything in as much detail as he can, sometimes coming back with more even when you think he’s finished.

“I don’t think there was any surprise,” said Hansen of the close call against Ireland in 2013. “The end of the year, back then, was the first time we’d gone around Argentina and South Africa, learning a lot about how to handle that travel and how to keep guys fresh.

“It’s the same when the Northern Hemisphere guys come down South, that part of the year is always difficult if you don’t manage it right. You’ve got guys who are starting to thinking about packing their suitcases and going home, and that’s another thing we learnt.

“You can’t be thinking that, you’ve got to have your mind on the job, what’s happening right now. If you turn up and you’re 5% off your game, anyone can beat you.”

He believes things have changed now.

The imposing wing Julian Savea followed Hansen in, and was asked why he thinks Ireland are so tough to play against.

“I don’t know, maybe they hate the colour black,” said Savea with a little laugh.

The stars kept on rolling out as the All Blacks’ media officer ushered Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith into the room next, the out-half explaining his pride at having brother Scott in the matchday squad with him for tomorrow.

Joe Schmidt Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Jordie Barrett will be an All Black soon too and is travelling with the squad this month as an apprentice. A freakishly talented family, with their father Kevin taking plenty of the credit for their success.

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However, Beauden has no doubt that his mother, Robyn, has played a key role too.

“Mum decided to come out last minute [to Chicago] so that will be pretty cool as well. Yeah, she’s an athletic person, well she was back in the day too so we can put a lot down to what she’s done previously and she’s obviously a very good cook.”

This is how these weeks of press conferences can go, sometimes dipping wildly away from the games at hand, sometimes being tactical in tone, sometimes meaningless, sometimes dull, sometimes simply silly.

Back over at Trump Tower that afternoon, it was no surprise that CJ Stander got straight to the point.

“Just be me,” said the flanker when asked what he wants to do against the All Blacks.

“I want to get my hands on the ball and get some carries in in the first few minutes and make some big hits in defence. I just want to get into the game – it’s another game of rugby and you don’t want that to change.”

Nice and direct after a week of sideshows. The Cubs’ victory parade will bring Chicago to a standstill this afternoon, another potential distraction, and you get the sense that the likes of McGrath, Schmidt, Hansen, Barrett and Stander will welcome the arrival of Saturday – no more cheap talk, lots more opportunity to make a real difference.

And perhaps the Kiwis will know all about McGrath afterwards.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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