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Wednesday 14 November 2018

Luke bound for Bilbao

Scrum-half McGrath is well on course for final

ALL SET: Luke McGrath of Leinster and UCD at the launch of the Ulster Bank League Awards which will take place on Thursday May 17. Photo: Sportsfile
ALL SET: Luke McGrath of Leinster and UCD at the launch of the Ulster Bank League Awards which will take place on Thursday May 17. Photo: Sportsfile

Luke McGrath is on course to provide Leinster with a big boost ahead of the Champions Cup final.

The ankle injury that prevented his appearance against the Scarlets in the semi-final has improved considerably from two weeks ago, when he looked like a non-runner.

The scrum-half began the first of three telling running exercises last Thursday week and came through in fine style.

The positive reaction of his ankle must have come as a relief as the signs were not too positive at the beginning of that week.

He has already suffered his fair share of hurt this season. There was the omission from competing with Kieran Marmion for a place on the bench for Ireland in the Grand Slam decider at Twickenham due to a knee injury

There was the frustration at leaving the quarter-final domination of back-to-back champions Saracens, where he played on for ten minutes with his most recent injury.

This was compounded by not even making it to the starting line for the Scarlets in the semi-final. What would it mean to make the European Cup final?

"It would be everything," he said, at the launch of the Ulster Bank League Awards. "It is such a long season. It is only the last three-and-a-half months I have been injured.

"Other than that, it has been such an enjoyable season in how it's gone and in the way we've played.

"You really want to finish on a high, especially with Isa (Nacewa) and (Richardt) Straussy retiring, Jordi (Murphy), Cathal (Marsh) and Peadar (Timmins) leaving."

He still has to come through the next two training days with no adverse reaction to make it to Bilbao.

Even then, coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will have to measure the importance of McGrath against the positive impact of Jamison Gibson-Park against Scarlets.

"It was brilliant, incredible," said McGrath about the dismantling of the Welsh club.

"The competitor in you is so disappointed to miss out on that. It was a really tough week for myself.

"Just being there and watching them play, it was one of our best performances of the year.

"I thought our attack was brilliant, the rucking and the all-round work up front was excellent.

Sensational

"The pack was sensational and that led to the good attack.

"It is nice to play behind a pack when it is going that well. I was talking to Jamison about it and he thought they were just brilliant."

Of course, it is the process of providing fast ball that will put a premium on fitness, especially going into the fourth quarter.

As Munster showed in the semi-final against Racing 92, their heavy men don't last the pace too well.

Now, in fairness, there may have been a case of the Paris club switching off late into the game when they knew they couldn't be caught.

However, Leinster will surely look to push the tempo to test out the theory around Racing's stamina over 80 minutes.

McGrath is not in a position to be even thinking about the game just yet.

"I just need to focus, not on the game, but on the process of getting back out training, proving my fitness, getting sharp to be ready for Bilbao."

McGrath's recovery would be good news for lightening left wing, James Lowe.

The infectious New Zealander provides that one-on-one prowess to beat defenders with footwork, speed or brute force.

It gives Leinster an extra dimension out wide, where Teddy Thomas is as limited in defence as the French international is irresistible in attack.

All McGrath has to do is come through this week.

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