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Thursday 5 December 2019

Patience pays off for Luke

Injuries forced McGrath to bide time for Ireland break

Luke McGrath starts the biggest game of his career against Russia
Luke McGrath starts the biggest game of his career against Russia

When Luke McGrath was dreaming of playing at the World Cup, if you had told him that his debut would come on the wing in one of the tournament's biggest upsets, it very quickly would have descended into a nightmare.

It was a case of needs must last weekend as bodies dropped amidst the carnage in Shizuoka.

Square pegs were placed in round holes as Garry Ringrose had to fill in at inside centre with Jordan Larmour outside of him and McGrath on the wing.

It hasn't all been plain sailing for McGrath since he made his international debut three years ago.

A couple of serious knee injuries ruled him out of the last two Six Nations, during which time Kieran Marmion had seemingly established himself as Conor Murray's back-up.

Given how much Joe Schmidt has trusted Marmion in recent years, it was something of a surprise that the Connacht scrum-half was omitted in favour of McGrath. But such was his form with Leinster last season as well as his understanding with Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery, McGrath leapfrogged Marmion in the pecking order.

Of his 16 caps to date, only three have come from the start. None of the three came in the Six Nations, which makes today's clash against Russia comfortably the biggest start of McGrath's international career.

Having Sexton guiding the way beside him will help massively because, inevitably, there will be nerves.

McGrath, however, admits that this chance on the main stage has felt like a long time coming:

"Yeah it does, especially with the Six Nations, I seem to get injured just before that. It has been really positive all summer," he says.

"My knee has settled down now, so I am really looking forward to getting into it and starting my first World Cup game.

"All summer it was a really highly contested position. To get the nod ahead of someone with Kieran's quality was brilliant. I feel very lucky and privileged to be part of this squad."

McGrath's humble nature has seen him grow into one of the main leaders in the Leinster dressing-room.

A regular captain with his home province, shouldering that extra responsibility has helped him feel that bit more comfortable when he comes into the Ireland set-up.

"I feel like I have gone well with Leinster and put my foot forward at times," he maintains.

"It's just about getting this opportunity on the big stage and proving that I can play here.

"We have great leaders in here. Obviously Pete (O'Mahony), Johnny, Rory Best, I am learning a lot of leadership qualities from them as well.

"We still have a young group so when I do get a chance to lead, I think scrum-half is a leader position anyway, so I try to lead the pack in front of us and get the ball to the backs as quick as possible. It's a natural role for a scrum-half.

"I feel lucky to be able to play with a person of Johnny's calibre the whole time," McGrath enthuses. "He leads by example and sets the standards. It's great that I have played with him loads of times.

"I really enjoy playing with him. It's like having a teacher out there at times. He knows what to do at the right times. I just listen to him most of the time and hopefully he's happy."

Ireland's captain's run took place at the stadium in Kobe yesterday where they got a taste of what the conditions will be like.

"You don't often see people lose their footing that quickly and the ball was very slippy so there were a lot of knock-ons and stuff like that.

"We will have to adapt to the conditions as I heard it was extremely hot at that (Scotland) game."

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