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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 28 October 2020
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Hart: 'I never spoke with Matt O'Connor about Leinster switch when I was home'

The Grenoble scrum-half is preparing for a weekend clash with Jonny Sexton’s Racing Métro.

James Hart kicks a penalty against Viadana.
James Hart kicks a penalty against Viadana.
Image: FCG Rugby

GRENOBLE PLAY RACING Métro this Saturday and the training has been pretty intense all week. Emotions often boil over during training drills and that has certainly been the case this week. That, I believe, is no bad thing.

We had a week off after our last game and it was good to get away after successive defeats. Many of us had been in since 7 June for pre-season so people were happy to get away from Grenoble and get rugby out of our mind. We have been back together since Monday and the focus is purely on getting the win over Racing.

We need it to get our season back on track. We have three home games from our five remaining league fixtures and need to win all of them. We have Toulouse as our last away tie so are targeting Oyonnax away as a must-win if we want to capture a Heineken Cup spot. Racing, unfortunately for us, are hitting form at the right time. They will be under severe pressure to finish in the top four or, at the very least, the European spots.

We have yet to hear whether Racing’s Six Nations players — Jonny Sexton, Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Mike Phillips — will be involved but I suspect, with so much at stake, that most will feature at some stage. Our focus has been on getting ourselves right and cutting out the errors and indiscipline that cost us in recent weeks.

We beat Racing earlier in the season by keeping things simple and putting them under pressure. We retained the ball as much as possible, forced them into errors and gained some scrum penalties. We have no superstars here but all work extremely hard for one another. This is another huge game and we will give it 100%.

I gave an interview to a Midi Olympique journalist ahead of the France versus Ireland game and was surprised to read the piece this week. The article quoted me as saying I had met Leinster coach Matt O’Connor when I was back in Dublin earlier in the month. I never said that and I don’t know where he got that line from. I wasn’t angry but I texted the journalist that morning to say ‘I never said that to you’. Perhaps he was trying to make more of his story but there was no meeting between Matt and myself. It was complete speculation.

Matt O'Connor Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

When a story like that is printed it a well respected rugby paper like that, a lot of people will read it and want to know what is going on. It can be frustrating as it looks as if I have no respect for Grenoble. This club gave me my break and I will be forever grateful to them for it. I’m not saying I will be here my whole career but I have committed to them for a few more years and would like to think I am a man of my word.

My dream is to play for my country — Ireland — and maybe someday get back home. I did say that to the journalist and I don’t regret that. Dublin is my home and that is where Leinster play. There is no point in causing difficulties and I am fully committed to Grenoble and the project here. I’m focused on trying to become a better rugby player and I’m doing with at a club that I owe a lot to.

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As an scrum-half, and someone who has played at out-half, you have to be very calm on the pitch as there are big decisions to make, points to kick, players to tackle and passes to pick. As a fan, however, I’m hopeless. I was screaming at my television on Saturday night as Ireland survived that late [TMO] scare to beat France. Ireland looked to have survived the storm until Rob Kearney tried that garryowen but sliced his kick and France took the ball on halfway. I was a nervous wreck for those last few minutes but it made the sound of that final whistle all the sweeter.

My St Patrick’s Day consisted of watching St Vincent’s beating Castlebar Mitchels, on TG4, in the All-Ireland club football final and the Munster Schools Senior Cup. I mentioned, in my last column, that I met Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly when I was back home. Diarmuid told me he had played some soccer with Home Farm when he was younger and that was clear from his volley to set himself up for a great second goal. He makes the game look so effortless.

DIARMUID Source: TG4

I have heard some people criticising Sexton’s kicking during the Six Nations but he is a world-class operator and he will be working hard to rectify any issues he has from the tee. If it were not for his attacking lines and tries, Ireland would not be where they are now. I did not get to meet Jonny after we beat Racing earlier in the season. He was understandably frustrated after that game and, I think, headed home early. He did sent me a message a few weeks after that game, though, that congratulated me on my breakthrough with Grenoble and winning the game.

I hope that he is passed fit to play on Saturday but, whether he features or not, we need the win and will pull out all the stops to get it. There is no room from error from here on out.

– Follow James Hart @Jameswilliam91 and Grenoble @FCGrugby_EN

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About the author:

James Hart  / Grenoble scrum-half

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