Saturday 16 December 2017

McGrath moves closer to second on the Irish grid for No 9 jersey

Luke McGrath needs more game time at international level
Luke McGrath needs more game time at international level

It has been a good season, even a great season, for Leinster's Players' Player of the Season Luke McGrath.

It shows what can happen when old soldiers like Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss resist the temptation to stay too long in the fight.

The former Ireland U20 captain has flourished in their aftermath as the experience of big games have led to big performances in his sixth season in blue.

At the same time Conor Murray is working his way back for the PRO12 play-offs and the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, McGrath is moving closer to second on the grid to wear the number nine shirt for his country.

Indeed, Ireland's summer tour to the United States and Japan should create a competitive one-on-one between McGrath and Connacht's Kieran Marmion at the end of which coach Joe Schmidt will have a better idea of Murray's back-up.

"There is obviously still a gap because I haven't had that much experience of that level," said McGrath.

"There was 15 minutes against Canada and then the same against England so that was pretty much it.

"It is definitely a massive jump up to that level."

The best way of getting there and becoming more comfortable in the environment is simply by playing regularly in it.

"The one big lesson I took from it all was that the smallest details have the biggest consequences in games," stressed McGrath.

"It is getting up to that level but that can only happen with games and, hopefully, I can get more of them in the near future."

The best way to prepare is by measuring his skills against the likes of Ruan Pienaar on Saturday and Murray in what would be a dream PRO12 final against Munster at the Aviva Stadium on May 27.

Last April, Leinster were the victims of a Pienaar masterclass in a 24-point domination by Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium.

"It seemed like Ruan couldn't pick a wrong option in the first20 minutes that day," recalled McGrath.

"He is just a class act. He always looks like he has so much time on the ball."

There is the small matter of going to Ulster for a not-so-Super Saturday with nothing more than the points on the table for Leinster.

The northern province require a minor miracle to make the semi-finals with Leinster, Munster, Scarlets and Ospreys destined for the play-offs.

"It is nice knowing we have a home semi," he said.

"This week we will be building on getting momentum into our season.

"We've done very well in the PRO12 this year, winning a number of games in a row.

"We want to keep that momentum going into the semi. We're looking for a big performance."

It would be one of many from McGrath this season.

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