'The injury has come on leaps and bounds': McGrath on track for Champions Cup final

The Leinster scrum-half is set to return to full team training at the start of next week.

McGrath is set to return to full training next week.
McGrath is set to return to full training next week.
Image: Brendan Moran

LUKE MCGRATH HAS set his sights on a return to full fitness in time for next month’s Champions Cup final, after making good progress in his recovery from an ankle injury in recent days.

The Leinster scrum-half missed the semi-final defeat of Scarlets last weekend and while he’ll sit out Saturday’s Pro14 inter-pro against Connacht, is on course to hand Leo Cullen a major boost ahead of Bilbao.

After missing the final few games of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign with a knee injury, McGrath won his race to be fit for Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens at the start of April, but hobbled out of the 30-19 win after damaging a joint in his ankle.

It was initially hoped the 25-year-old would make a quick recovery, but the damage to his syndesmosis joint was worse than first feared, forcing him to spend a couple of weeks in a protective boot and then, upon a return to training, reworking his running mechanism.

Fortunately, an operation wasn’t required and after being ruled out of the Scarlets showdown at the Aviva Stadium, McGrath has worked hard with the Leinster medical team over the last week to stay firmly on track for a 12 May return.

“It’s going well,” he told The42 this afternoon.

“The last couple of days, the injury has come on leaps and bounds. It was a bit of a struggle at the start, trying to progress back into that running mechanism but it’s going really well now.

“A lot of the lads have done it this year, a little bit of damage to that syndesmosis. Thankfully I didn’t need to get the operation and I’ve been able to treat it conservatively and it’s going really well.

Luke McGrath with Alex Goode The Ireland international has played 17 times for Leinster this term. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I’m hoping to be back training next week and then fit for Bilbao.”

McGrath’s consistently excellent form, sharp distribution and overall game management in the number nine jersey has seen him emerge as a key part of Leinster’s pursuit of a fourth European star, but he has endured a frustrating couple of months.

As he looked to establish himself as Conor Murray’s understudy, an untimely knee injury during Leinster’s Pro14 clash with Scarlets during the Six Nations window was a disappointing setback, and this ankle problem has led to further time on the sideline.

“I never really had too many injuries before but the last four months have been very disappointing, just in and out the whole time,” he continued.

“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve talked to guys who have had long-term injuries and learning how to narrow my focus and hitting short-term goals. That’s what I’ve tried to do and it’s made me be more positive about the injury but getting injured in the Scarlets game and missing the rest of the Six Nations was very disappointing.

“The competitor in you always wants to play and while watching them win the Grand Slam was brilliant, you want to be there. And then to get back for the Saracens game, which was incredible, and then your ankle goes again and it’s just…it’s very frustrating.”

As the first-choice scrum-half, McGrath’s return would naturally be a significant fillip for Leinster ahead of their Champions Cup decider with Racing 92, but his availability also has a wider impact on Cullen’s team-sheet.

Ulster Bank League Awards launch McGrath at the launch of the UBL Awards. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

The former St Michael’s man remains the key piece in the two-from-three Antipodean selection ruling and his return would allow Leinster to pick from a full deck without having to leave James Lowe out of the matchday squad, as they were forced to do against Scarlets, with Jamison Gibson-Park deputising in the nine jersey.

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“It was a funny one,” he says of the selection talk revolving his fitness in the build-up to Scarlets.

“It’s nice to be missed, it’s a great feeling and means you’re doing something well. I was trying so hard to get back for that game, in every single day trying to get the ankle right but it was simply too soon as I couldn’t push it anymore.

“The main thing for me is if I’m fit to play, I’ll play but if I’m not, there’s no point in going in there 50 per cent. All my focus now is on getting back for the final.”

“I’m confident if I work hard next week in training, I’ll be fully fit to go.”

Luke McGrath was speaking at the launch of the Ulster Bank League Awards, which will recognise the outstanding club talent throughout all five divisions of the league. The Awards will take place at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday 17 May.

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