Genial Joe heaps praise on debutant McGrath
JOE SCHMIDT hates to give away trade secrets, or even the semblance of an opening for foes to seize upon.
But even he couldn't disguise the fact that Jonathan Sexton will return to the number ten jersey against Australia next Saturday as long as his hip flexor is strong enough to take it.
"He wasn't the Lions starting out-half for no reason," said Schmidt.
Presently, prop Jack McGrath and wing Dave Kearney will bask in the sunshine of their dreams fulfilled, Schmidt summing up McGrath's impact against Samoa in one sentence: "That is about the best I have seen Jack go."
Schmidt will spare no one the arrow of constructive criticism over the three years of his international contract. He doesn't hand out bouquets easily; prop McGrath feeling the love on his sensational debut.
"I have known Jack for a long time. When you've got Dave Kilcoyne and Tom Court and even young James Cronin, you've got guys pushing," said Schmidt.
"When you get one (opportunity), it means you've really got to step up and take it. Fair play to Jack, that is exactly what he did.
"Once he got the nod, he made sure he wasn't going to leave it with anything less than his best performance."
The 19-stone loose-head is a hardman at work, a more humble, feeling beast away from it.
"It is something you dream of. You would well up and get a lump in the throat. You'd have a heart of stone if you didn't," said McGrath, on earning his first international cap.
Kearney had to wait for an hour of play before being called on for his first taste of international action, taking the first of two try-scoring passes from his brother Rob.
"It is special for me and Rob and my family, who brought us to training from eight years of age, to see us putting on the green jersey together," he said.
The two-try burst in an impressive 20-minute cameo puts Kearney right in the frame to challenge his good friend Fergus McFadden for one of the wing slots against Australia on Saturday.
It felt like a long time coming for Kearney, first summoned for bench duty 22 months since.
"It was the first game of the Six Nations. When I didn't get on, I was still hopeful. I found myself at the bottom of the pile again," he said.
"I have waited a while. It was probably a year and a half ago when I was on the bench last. I hoped it would come earlier. It has come now. I have the first cap."
There are more out there for Kearney and McGrath.