Wednesday 23 January 2019

Luke ready to make his move

Scrum-half closing the gap on Marmion to be Murray back-up

Luke McGrath of Leinster on his way to scoring his side's second try during the Guinness PRO12 Round 12 match between Leinster and Ulster at the RDS
Luke McGrath of Leinster on his way to scoring his side's second try during the Guinness PRO12 Round 12 match between Leinster and Ulster at the RDS

You can be too brave for your own good sometimes.

Take Luke McGrath.

The baby-faced schoolboy hero had just arrived out of St Michael's College - yes, another one from there - and into the Leinster Academy in 2011 as the captain of the only Ireland U18 edition to win the FIRA European Championship.

It wasn't a bad side either with Stuart Olding at fly-half, Robbie Henshaw and Grenoble's Chris Farrell in the centre, the Byrne brothers, Bryan and Edward, in the front row and Dan Leavy in the back row with Rory Scannell on the bench.

Vanquished England were not short of quality themselves with Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Dom Barrow and Jack Clifford.

McGrath was known for his Ben Youngs-like eye for a gap with the off-the-mark speed to match.

He was also inclined to test the 'the bigger they are, the harder they fall' myth.

It was early days at Leinster when the scrum-half thought he would like a piece of Richardt Strauss.

The outcome was all too predictable, the whippet-thin McGrath lying flat on his back from being blown back in the contact.

"You're not going to last too long if you keep doing that," came the reasoning from a coach.


His undoubted leadership skills come by way of his rugby smarts, his bravery and his work ethic, a triple threat of sorts.

"If you go back to his school days in Michael's, he'd say himself he was nearly too ruck focussed," said Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey.

"He was nearly in as another seven trying to poach every ball."

McGrath had to concentrate on getting to the ruck quicker and getting his ball away slicker.

There have been improvements in both, although this did seem to take him away from the things that got him into Leinster.

This was nowhere more apparent than in the scrum-half blowing a gilt-edged try against Castres in The Champions Cup that the 18 year-old version of McGrath would have eaten up.

In a strange way, it could have been just what he needed as there have been back-to-back tries against Northampton and Ulster. The gaps were there and he just took them.

The improvement in his kicking game is one reason McGrath was at Ireland's mini-camp, putting heat on Kieran Marmion to be the back-up to Conor Murray.

The willingness to put his body on the line was illustrated in how he cut down Darren Cave at The RDS.

"It was brilliant. It was always one of Luke's strengths," added Dempsey.

"He was in the cover line coming across and he made a read really well, came through and chopped him down straight away."

The man learns the way he moves - fast.

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