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Leinster Lion Rediscovers His Roar


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He's not the type of player who would need one but last November probably proved to be a bit of a wake up call for Jack McGrath.

The Leinster prop's career peaked last summer as he confirmed his then-status as Ireland's best loosehead prop, starring in all three Tests, albeit as a replacement, for the Lions against New Zealand.

No better man than Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt to reignite competition for a place in his starting XV and McGrath found himself on the bench for the two key Autumn internationals; versus South Africa and Argentina. Starters against Fiji had a tough day at the office.

Granted, like Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, there would be an element of Schmidt managing McGrath after his gruelling summer in the Southern hemisphere but no player wants to see his competition, in this case; Cian Healy, gaining any sort of an edge.

This week the 28-year-old has again been given the honour of captaining the side, for the Guinness PRO14 clash with Ulster, in just his seventh start of the season in Leinster's 17th game of this term but he admits it has been a bit of a struggle to get to this point.

"Yeah it's tough, I'd never encountered it before but for me, after November I parked it. I came in and spoke to Leo and the backroom staff and just told them what was going on. They were more than helpful and I just got a plan in place of what I needed to do to get back to where I was.

"I think it was more from a fitness aspect, that I just wasn't up to the pace and at this level if you're a little bit off the pace you stand out on the negative side of things. So, for me it was just being able to keep up with the game. I feel like I have that back now, coming into a few more interesting games."

Interestingly, the time spent kicking his heels on the sidelines has helped him develop even more as a player.

"It was probably...you're not getting picked, you're not really playing. It's kind of like a rest nearly. I probably got a rest by default around the Novembers and then I was able to pick up and play a good sixty minutes in Treviso and then getting into the European games and playing against Munster. So now I've got four games under my belt, and I know now if I don't get enough minutes in those games, I'm topping up during the week. For me it's just topping up and that's probably what I hadn't done in the past and it's paying dividends now."

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen at the Ulster pre-match press conference - ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Head coach Leo Cullen admitted today that it was hard for McGrath to compete with Healy on returning from his first ever Lions Tour.

"[Healy] started the season a little bit earlier so he probably just got the edge on him there at that stage. It had a knock-on effect for November but Jack's worked, he's knuckled down and he's working as hard as he was before but he's certainly very focused at the moment.

"For us it's great just to have those guys here because it's great strength in depth. Peter Dooley played, I thought he did very well against Connacht as well. Ed Byrne's been on the bench so he's been giving us good impact in Cian's absence at the moment."

And Cullen had no issues with allowing McGrath to lead the team out for his first time at the RDS.

"We're delighted with how he led the team against Munster. Unfortunately he went off at half-time with a HIA but he's come back in and he's been really good this week as well. It's a very short turnaround so we were trying to get up and running pretty quickly after the [Connacht] game so to give the guys the best chance to prepare. But yeah, Jack as been great."


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