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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 31 March, 2020

McCarthy pushing to be picked on merit, not because of selection rules

The scrum-half is enjoying more game time with Leinster this season.

McCarthy pictured outside Leinster HQ.
McCarthy pictured outside Leinster HQ.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THIS IS BY far Nick McCarthy’s most fruitful season with Leinster, the scrum-half already featuring three times as much as he did in his first two years at the club, and it is likely he will have a major part to play in the business end of the campaign.

Waiting patiently behind Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park in the pecking order, opportunities have been few and far between for McCarthy since he graduated from the academy and last week’s start against Southern Kings was just his second in blue.

His other 18 senior appearances have all come off the bench, more often than not for the dying embers, but this season has been different, and McCarthy has relished the chance to take his game to the next level.

In that demolition of the Kings a couple of Fridays ago, McCarthy — albeit against feeble opposition — was busy and energetic as he scored two tries, assisting three and overall made 80 passes and ran 74 metres with ball in hand.

It was an important night for McCarthy, not just to get minutes under his belt or to triple his career try-scoring tally, but to show the coaches, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, his worth in the nine jersey.

“I have had a few opportunities in the last few weeks,” he says.

“I have really enjoyed it, it has been great to get a good opportunity. If you get a bit of game time you get more comfortable in the system, you get a bit of confidence, so it is going well at the moment.

Nick McCarthy scores his side's second try McCarthy recently scored two tries against the Kings. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“Attacking is something Stuart keeps talking to the halves about, keep taking the line on, looking to beat defenders. If you can get your hands free for an offload that’s great, you know, it just adds another level to our game, if we can get among the threats, the nines.

“So it was a good opportunity last weekend.”

On improvements in his all-round game, the 22-year-old adds: “It has improved a lot this season as I’ve played a lot more rugby this year than any other year, senior rugby anyway. I am really enjoying it and, yeah, I think it is going well.”

With McGrath sidelined with the knee injury he sustained against Scarlets, and the overseas player rule meaning Leinster can use only two of their three Antipodean, McCarthy’s development is encouraging as the province head into a season-defining block of fixtures.

Leinster are confident that McGrath will be back for their Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens on 1 April, but should he fail to recover in time, his fellow St Michael’s College alumni has proved he is more than capable of deputising.

McCarthy is fully aware that the competition rules mean he could be called upon for that mouth-watering European clash, but the former Ireland U20 international is focusing on earning selection on merit.

“Being realistic for me, it may mean more opportunities in terms of game time but I suppose I also have to work hard at my own stuff, work hard at training at getting better and put my best foot forward, hopefully I’ll get picked on merit and not because of a rule,” he said.

Nick McCarthy Leinster returned to training today. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“You have to just back your own ability, you probably wouldn’t be around this environment if you didn’t so it is really important to do that.”

McCarthy was primed to be involved in Leinster’s Pro14 trip to Scarlets last weekend before it fell victim to the adverse weather conditions.

The round 17 fixture has been rescheduled for this Friday evening [KO 7.35pm, Sky Sports], with Leinster reporting no new injury concerns ahead of the top-of-the-table clash in Conference B.

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Ryan Bailey

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