Sunday 19 November 2017

McGrath not yet a master

Leinster number nine to learn from Smith & Genia

Leinster’s Luke McGrath, pictured during squad training yesterday, will be hoping to learn from the All Blacks’ Aaron Smith at scrum half
Leinster’s Luke McGrath, pictured during squad training yesterday, will be hoping to learn from the All Blacks’ Aaron Smith at scrum half

Former Ireland U20 captain Luke McGrath is one of those Napoleonic leaders, a man with game-changing presence, not physical stature.

The trend towards the larger specimens at scrum-half, like Fourie du Preez, Mike Phillips and Conor Murray, has been balanced out by the re-emergence of Will Genia and the immaculate works of Aaron Smith.

There are no prizes on offer for guessing where McGrath, 22, looks for improvement.

"I think Aaron Smith's probably the best in the world and you can learn a lot off him," he said.

"If you look at how the All Blacks play, he's the man who's linking the pack to the backline the whole time.

"The pack, the backline and the wide men are getting so many tries I think he's the link man in there."

The Wallaby Genia has changed his game to fit the glove that is coach Michael Cheika and assistant Stephen Larkham's plan of execution.

"I thought he was unreal on Sunday, he got such quick ball off his pack and he did very well.

"There's so much you can learn from these guys, even just watching on the TV.

"I think Genia likes to bring in the forwards more where Aaron Smith just links up with the backline, and the forwards when he has to.

"They're the two best scrum-halves in the world so it'll be great to watch them against each other on Saturday."

The motivation is not just to watch, but to learn, because they share traits with McGrath.

"They wouldn't be the biggest men in the world, but their skill sets are world class and that would be something to aspire to."

The transition from Age Grade sensation to professional phenomenon doesn't happen overnight.

There have been flaws in need of attention for McGrath, a lengthening and quickening of his delivery among some of them as coach Leo Cullen sets his stall out to breathe new life into his Leinster side as an attacking force.

There was a stage last season when McGrath appeared to overtake Isaac Boss as main support to Eoin Reddan. He didn't quite take what was given.

"Personally, I didn't play as well as I wanted to," he admitted.

The slate has been wiped clean, the reset button pressed for McGrath to start three out of the first five rounds of the PRO12.

"The coaches just told me to keep the head down, keep working and, thankfully, I'm still young and I have age on my side.

"I've been trying to work on my passing, kicking, reading the game and everything that a nine does.

"That's been my focus and, thankfully, with the lads away I've got an opportunity and I just want to build on that."

For all of that, it is McGrath's instant speed around the fringes that has marked him out as a threat worth the attention of defenders.

An improved service and the sharpening of a sniper's instinct would serve McGrath well and Leinster even better.

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