Jack McGrath became the latest victim of the painful Lions hangover when he was dropped by Joe Schmidt for Ireland’s autumn clashes with South Africa and Argentina.
Having started all but one of the 15 Tests since the 2015 World Cup, the 28-year-old’s omission was a surprise to the player as much as the watching public.
But there was no hissy fit, no tantrum, and now — a week after captaining Leinster for the first time, in Thomond Park no less, the loosehead prop believes he’s back motoring in top gear and ready to fight for the No. 1 shirt when the Six Nations comes around.
Having played just four hours of rugby before November’s first Test against the Springboks, McGrath concedes he was not yet up to speed to battle Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne in the green shirt, but has made the required changes since.
“At this level, if you are a little bit behind the pace, you stand out in a negative sense, for me it is about staying on top of fitness,” McGrath said.
“I probably didn’t have enough game time, probably wasn’t doing enough extra sessions. When I came into November, I was probably a little under-cooked and selection didn’t go my way.
“I’ve been trucking away, trying to do a few extras, trying to impress.
“I have a regime now that I find is working for me in getting back to the best of my ability.”
McGrath sat out Monday’s win over Connacht, but is expected to be back in the fold for this weekend’s clash with Ulster.
Whether he is captain again remains to be seen, but he was grateful, if more than a little surprised, to get the nod on St Stephen’s Day — and saw it as a reward for his return to form.
“It was a massive honour and a bit of a surprise to be honest,” he said. “I was delighted and no better game to do it in because that can be a tricky fixture as well. There was a lot of talk around selection and all that sort of stuff so we just knew ourselves if we went down and played our game we could get a result. Thankfully that’s what happened. It was great and they’re an easy bunch to lead when it is like that. It was enjoyable, I liked it.”
Leinster are in good shape to make it three wins from three when Ulster visit on Saturday, with McGrath and Adam Byrne among those back and available to Leo Cullen.
The northern province enjoyed a remarkable comeback win over Munster on Monday, wiping out a 17-0 half-time deficit to win 24-17, a result that will take them to Dublin with confidence.
“It was the typical game of two halves, Munster played really well in the first half and discipline let them down,” McGrath said.
“Sam Arnold’s red card effected the game massively and there was a yellow card as well to leave Munster with 13 at one stage.
“They (Ulster) managed to convert points when guys were off the pitch which was a huge thing.
“When you have that confidence — they are going well in Europe as well — it was a great fight back.”
Seán O’Brien will miss the game due to a tightness in the hip while Rory O’Loughlin is also out following a HIA yesterday.
Luke and Jack McGrath passed their respective HIA protocols and come into contention for the weekend while Dan Leavy will be assessed later in the week after suffering a back injury in the win over Connacht.
Leinster chiefs confirmed that Joey Carbery returns to training this week as he continues his rehabilitation from a fractured wrist sustained during Ireland’s 23-20 win over Fiji in November.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved