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'McGrath is particularly unlucky to miss out. He was impressive against Munster'

The latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra breaks down Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad.

McGrath was part of Ireland's World Cup squad in 2019.
McGrath was part of Ireland's World Cup squad in 2019.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ANDY FARRELL WAS always going to face a tough call in picking his three scrum-halves for the 2021 Six Nations, even before a number of them hit strong form in recent months.

In the end, the Ireland head coach has opted for the trio of Conor Murray, Jamison Gibson-Park, and the uncapped Craig Casey in his 36-man squad.

Today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra – an analysis podcast available to members of The42 every Monday – features a position-by-position breakdown of Farrell’s squad. The scrum-half situation was always likely to be prominent.

Ulster’s John Cooney and Connacht pair Kieran Marmion and Caolin Blade would all have hoped to be involved for the Six Nations, while Eoin picked out Leinster’s Luke McGrath as one of those unlucky to miss out on selection.

McGrath has been battling with Gibson-Park for the number nine shirt at Leinster in recent times but started there against Munster last weekend and delivered an excellent performance.

“It’s unclear who the number one in Leinster is at times with Gibson-Park and McGrath, it’s hard to call it at times,” said Eoin on today’s pod.

“I have been so impressed with Gibson-Park, who has become central to Leinster’s attack as that playmaking nine, but equally I thought McGrath was super impressive at the weekend with his all-round game, his kicking game, his running game.

“He, for me, is the one who is particularly unlucky to miss out.”

Eoin highlighted the influential moments that McGrath delivered for Leinster between the 60th and 70th minutes as they came from behind to beat Munster.

“There were two pivotal moments from McGrath in that period,” said Eoin.

“There was that quick-tap deep in his half where Leinster win a penalty and many teams would have just said, ‘We’ve ridden out the pressure, let’s kick into the opposition half and go off a lineout’ but he just senses the momentum of the game.

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luke-mcgrath McGrath had a big influence on Leinster's win over Munster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He quick-taps and, ironically, finds Gibson-Park, who has come onto the wing, and they make 40 metres in a heartbeat. Gibson-Park ends up kicking the ball away quite cheaply into Munster’s 22, but it was a brilliant spark moment that changed the momentum of the game.

“Then, crucially, what led to the Leinster lineout they scored from…. Murray kicks the ball into the Leinster 22, Leinster go to the lineout and maul. All bets are off that it’s going to be a box kick from McGrath but he just senses the shortside opportunity. 

“It’s Murray defending there and McGrath just takes the opportunity in what is a big moment in the game. He shows-and-goes inside Murray, gets a bit of momentum and from that momentum, Munster give up the penalty which leads to Ross Byrne kicking for the lineout that leads to the try.

“I thought those two moments were big, big moments.”

19-times capped McGrath has to watch on from the outside of Ireland camp for now, with Murray, Gibson-Park and Casey getting the nod ahead of him.

It seems likely that Murray will remain first-choice for Ireland at scrum-half and Eoin is intrigued to see what role his promising 21-year-old Munster team-mate Casey has.

“You think of the match-ups of your nines and 10s, whether Casey is in the squad to get some exposure there because he wouldn’t have played with any of the 10s in the squad, whereas McGrath or Cooney give you a combination with either Ross Byrne or Billy Burns.

“It’s interesting to see what role Casey will play within the squad. Judging by past selection, you would expect Conor Murray and Jamison Gibson-Park to be the nailed-on two.”

Today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra saw the lads discussing Farrell’s big decisions across his squad, while they broke down Leinster’s win over Munster, and dug into Connacht’s home defeat to the Ospreys. 

You can sign up as a member of The42 here in order to listen to the extra rugby podcasts and a wide range of other shows on sportswriting, football, GAA, and coaching, as well as getting weekly newsletters and access to our lively member-only Whatsapp groups. 

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