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Saturday 21 October 2017

Jack's cian to make most of his chance

McGrath eyes opportunity to become number one in Healy's absence with long-term injury

"Luke McGrath and Mick McGrath - all the McGraths are taking over," he laughed. Behind the smile, there is a serious side to Jack McGrath.

He believes the time is right to challenge the natural order at number one for province and for country.

Okay, Cian Healy's hamstring was torn away from his bone - and the surgery needed - could take anything from 4-6 months to recover from.

Given Healy's mercurial powers of recovery - he made it back from syndesmosis of his ankle in record time last season - it is bound to be closer to four.

In the meantime, McGrath is ready to threaten Healy's status?

"I think so, yeah," McGrath said. "I think we play well together. I think we suit each other. I can start and he can come on and make a difference, and vice-versa.

"To lose a world-class player is never great but I think, as a squad, it's going to tighten us up.

"It is an opportunity for me to put a few good performances together and, hopefully, put my hand up for selection for the Irish team."

It all starts on Saturday against Munster, the province which includes McGrath's two closest competitors for national honours in the dynamic pair Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin.

Munster have been failing to impress as they continue to evolve, or should that be return to a more traditional approach, going back to their roots as a mauling, percentage, kick-the-corners club.

"With any team, any Irish team, when your back is against the wall, that's when you perform at your best," said McGrath. "But, in saying that, they have the exact same record as us - won two, lost two - so you can't count them out."

Misery

The significant difference is that Munster have lost twice at home to Edinburgh and The Ospreys, only winning away to bottom clubs Zebre and Treviso. Sure, Leinster have fallen to Glasgow and Connacht away, but they have also heaped extensive misery on the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues at the RDS, both for the bonus of four tries.

McGrath holds out a degree of sympathy for Munter's new regime and how coach Anthony Foley is going with a different template than they had under Rob Penney.

"It was like us at the start of last season. You struggle a little bit to find your feet with the new stuff that you want to do, play-wise and defence-wise," he offered.

"So that could be a little bit of it as well but I wouldn't look too far into it. It's a long season and Munster are experienced enough. They have guys in their camp there that can just pull in the troops and perform when they need to."

McGrath certainly won't need any greater motivation than the fixture itself. It is one which has always been close to his heart.

But why? "You always get a sold-out crowd with it and it's just it's always been Leinster and Munster against each other. It just goes back years. I remember as a kid it was always number one. If you're not a massive rugby fan, that's what you come out for. All the 'bandwagoners' jump on for the Munster-Leinster rivalry and get their tickets."

The natural instincts of a prop forward are to favour muscle over magic. It is the trench warfare that has always fascinated McGrath and it is never fiercer than when the blue and red bleed into each other, as they did in October of 2009. "There was a match in the RDS - I was in the sub academy - I can't remember what year it was and they literally used to kick the ... out of each other."

In fact, Leinster had just taken Munster's stature as leading Irish province by winning the Heineken Cup for the first time in May.

Feisty

It was a feisty affair in which John Hayes was red-carded in an out-of-character act for using his boot to slice open Cian Healy's head.

"It was unbelievable watching it and I always remember ruck-time, there was a sending-off and yellow cards and it was actually just great to watch," said McGrath.

Spoken like a true blue front row forward.

Positive Outlook: Leinster's Jack McGrath during squad training (opposite) coming on to replace Cian Healy during Ireland's Six Nations clash against England at Twickenham in February.

Pics: Sportsfile

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