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With almost 20 internationals away, Leinster's young guns are looking to cement their place

Tadhg Furlong and Luke McGrath are two guys who’ve benefited from the available game time.

A delighted Furlong after scoring a try against Castres.
A delighted Furlong after scoring a try against Castres.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE LAST FEW weeks have been dominated by the national team as Irish rugby fans devour as much Six Nations coverage as they can without it adversely impacting their relationships with family and friends.

But in the background the provinces are still going about their business and are now halfway through a four-week stretch of games. Leinster have had a decidedly mixed fortnight, losing at home to the Dragons and just about getting the bonus point win against Zebre last Friday night.

One positive to come out of both games for Matt O’Connor will be the increased game time enjoyed by some of the younger members of his squad, especially Luke McGrath and Tadhg Furlong.

The duo are two of Leinster’s most improved players this season and have graduated from novice professionals to two guys capable of contributing in big games.

Furlong ascended to the match-day squad for Leinster’s final two Champions Cup pool games ahead of Mike Ross but the Wexford native didn’t feel any extra pressure in having to replace Ireland’s starting tighthead.

“I don’t think so [that there was extra pressure replacing Ross] because I was pretty confident in my form at the time,” Furlong said.

“I was happy to get the call to go on the bench and the Champions Cup is just that bit of a higher level again. The pressure was on in those two games so it was really good to get that experience.”

Furlong credits Ross for continuing to offer advice and tips even after he was omitted and says the three competing number threes regularly help each other out.

“The three tightheads have a really good relationship so I don’t think there would be anyone holding back on each other,” Furlong said.

“We talk pretty openly on what we think would work or wouldn’t work.”

During this period last year Leinster took 19 from a possible 20 points so they have already slipped from that standard after the loss to the Dragons. Even though Leinster have almost 20 players involved in the Irish camp at the moment Luke McGrath thinks there is a great chance for players like himself to impress.

Luke McGrath tries to pass the tackle of Brok Harris McGrath tries to evade the tackle of the Dragons' Brok Harris. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“It is a very important time for the young lads,” McGrath said.

“We have to take each day as it comes and make sure we are switched on in training, know our detail and when the opportunity does come that we take it.”

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McGrath has made the most of the playing time he has received this year and many fans and pundits expected to see him feature a little more regularly in Matt O’Connor’s team.

However the former St Michael’s pupil says he doesn’t really pay much attention to the clamour from the stands asking for him to be included.

“You try not to focus on that because you have so much on your plate in here,” McGrath said.

“For the young lads coming in who might not have had much game time you just want to make sure everything is right off the pitch and then when you do come in you have to be ready.”

Like Furlong, McGrath is also in a three-man battle for two spots and Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss have generally been chosen by O’Connor for some of the season’s bigger games.

Rather than having a combative relationship in the quest for a match-day spot, McGrath credits the two older scrum-halves with teaching him a lot since he entered the Leinster set-up.

“The guys in here like Redser [Eoin Reddan] and Bossy [Isaac Boss] have so much experience so every time I come in here I learn something off them,” McGrath said.

“I’m enjoying playing alongside them and I feel that they have shown me a lot in the last year or two.”

McGrath and Furlong both featured off the bench in Leinster’s crucial 50-8 Champions Cup win over Castres and both men crossed for tries too. You could tell which of them had scored more tries before though because the tighthead had a hard time suppressing his beaming grin.

furlong

“They don’t come around too often so you might as well have a bit of craic when it does happen,” Furlong laughed.

“I was delighted to score and Straussy [Richardt Strauss] gave it to me on a plate so all I had to do was trot on over.”

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