Sunday 17 December 2017

Jack McGrath no longer apprentice to Cian Healy as Schmidt ponders his number one

Jack McGrath
Jack McGrath

You wouldn't blame Jack McGrath for feeling under-appreciated.

While Cian Healy's uncertain journey back from the sharp end of a surgeon's knife has been splashed wide across the headlines of national newspapers, Ireland's other loose-head has been carrying more than his fair share of the load.

Dubliner McGrath (25) played 16 times for 889 minutes in blue and seven for 428 in green last season, having a hand in all Ireland's Six Nations matches, starting all but the endgame against Scotland.

The consistency hasn't dipped this season as he has already packed in four starts in the exalted company of Wales, twice, England and most recently Canada.

Healy was restricted to lining out in nine matches in blue and four in green, all for a total of 555 minutes.

The 27-year-old had to be nursed through a distressing rehabilitation period from a neck operation, never really knowing whether he would make the World Cup until the last month.

His special status within Irish rugby was reflected in his season bow coming as late as the final quarter against Canada.

All the while, McGrath was closing the once long and winding gap to Healy in an upward curve of experience and performance.

He didn't dwell too long on the perception outside of what Ireland were losing without Healy.

In the meantime, Ireland have been gaining enough from the ongoing excellence of McGrath to claim the ownership over two world-class loose-heads.

All is fair in love, war and rugby.

Thus, it was unsurprising to hear of McGrath's lack of sympathy for the plight of Romania as they turn out against France today and Ireland on Sunday, with four days to recover and reboot their energy levels.

"That's just the way the rankings and the seedings have gone and there's not a whole lot we can do about that," he said.

"All we can do is give them the respect they deserve, turn up and then give them a good game.

"It's just the way the chips fell," offered McGrath

There is clear favouritism shown to the so-called Tier 1 nations as Romania follow in the footsteps of Japan, who have to confront Scotland today, four days after carrying out the biggest shock in the short 28-year history of the World Cup against South Africa on Sunday.

In contrast, Ireland have a week between all their Pool D games when they clearly have greater resources to cope than either of rugby's minnows.

"Japan just beat South Africa, so I wouldn't say that's getting stung. We'll see tomorrow how they get on," said McGrath.

"You only get stung if you lose the game. It's a long way to go in the World Cup."

The long and short of it is Ireland have little time to consider the rights and wrongs of individual cases.

They just have to get on with their mission to break new ground in moving away from the old habits of under-achievement.

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