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Sunday 23 September 2018

'Grateful' McGrath believes boss brings out best in Irish

Ireland's Jack McGrath. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Jack McGrath. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

COACH Joe Schmidt said he would go on form when it came to selecting his first Ireland international team.

He has done exactly that by giving 24-year-old Jack McGrath his international debut and rewarding Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy and Chris Henry for their prominence at the start of this season.

"I think, with Joe, he was the one who gave me an opportunity initially and I'll be forever grateful to him for that," responded McGrath.

"The type of coach Joe is, he demands the best from every player and I think it brings the best out in every player. On that end, it's been very good personally for my playing career."

McGrath was asked to turn back time to those who were there all the way through his journey from wide-eyed boy to international man. There was a queue for dues paid: "Probably in school (St Mary's), Richie Hughes when I was younger, and then Dave Breslin and Rodney O'Donnell coming up through.

"Then Colin McEntee brought me into the (Leinster) Academy initially. Dave Fagan (strength & conditioning) helped me out a lot there and then as I came up, Michael Cheika, and now Matt O'Connor has given me a bit of game time."

 

Littered

It is one matter to make it to the summit; quite another to make it happen when you get there.

History is littered with men who have reachED The Promised Land – only to not make it their home.

Schmidt has held back the recently injured Paul O'Connell, Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy for bench duty with Australia and New Zealand appearing on the horizon.

Leinster loose-head McGrath is possibly the one player to benefit from Schmidt's time at Leinster in that the coach knew what sort of animal he was dealing with back then.

McGrath's impact at the latter part of last season, for Emerging Ireland at The Tbilisi Cup in June and for Leinster this season, have all signposted his rise to recognition.

It is a graduation at the expense of Munster's Dave Kilcoyne and Ulster's Tom Court, a promotion born out of Schmidt's inside knowledge and scrum coach Greg Feek's belief.

Injury-hit Samoa will be without five frontline stars for the game. Northampton scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i will captain coach Stephen Betham's side, with Stade Francais centre Gavin Williams ruled out.

Harlequins flanker Maurie Fa'asavalu, Worcester wing David Lemi, Perpignan back-row forward Dan Leo and Toulouse tighthead Census Johnston are the other absentees, which means McGrath will come up against powerful Leicester tighthead Logovi'i Mulipola.

Schmidt has opted for tried and trusted combinations, McCarthy and Toner at lock, Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy in the centre with Luke Marshall nowhere to be seen.

There should be enough in the way of experience either side of Paddy Jackson – Conor Murray inside him, along with D'Arcy and O'Driscoll outside – to allow the Ulsterman to put on display his growing skills.

This is likely to be a tight one with Jackson's goal-kicking sure to be put under pressure and the eager Ian Madigan waiting in the wings for his chance.

Samoa (v Ireland): F Autagavaia; A Leiua, G Pisi, J Leota, B Vaalu; T Pisi, K Fotualii (capt); S Taulafo, W Avei, L Mulipola, F Lemalu, T Paulo, O Treviranus, J Lam, T Tuifua.

Ireland v Samoa, The Aviva Stadium, Tomorrow 5.45 (Live RTE2)

Verdict: Ireland

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