McGrath happy to emerge from World Cup shadows

McGrath happy to emerge from World Cup shadows
Luke McGrath poses for a portrait at a Leinster Rugby press conference at Leinster Rugby Headquarters in UCD, Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Felipe Contepomi made the point last week that every Irish player returning from duties in Japan would process the disappointment of the World Cup in their own unique way.

There would be no universal blanket of misery enveloping them all, more so a patchwork quilt with a few dozen different shades and patterns stitched in.

Luke McGrath’s personal story is a case in point.

The Leinster scrum-half’s selection for the squad, instead of Connacht’s Kieran Marmion, was a call that generated more scrutiny than any other aside from that of Jean Kleyn’s inclusion at the expense of Devin Toner.

McGrath let nobody down and yet his reflections on the experience in Asia, from a personal point of view, seem decidedly mixed after one start and four appearances off the bench, one of them as an emergency winger in the defeat to Japan.

“Yeah I was obviously delighted to get the opportunity to represent my country at the highest level, that was a massive honour. But it’s funny when you’re over there, it’s kind of game to game to game. We were delighted with Scotland and then obviously disappointed against Japan.

“But personally I didn’t play too much. I got that 80 minutes against Russia, which I was happy to get out there, but I felt coming home that I didn’t get to play too much. But it was a great experience, I really enjoyed it. It was just the fact that rugby wasn’t going to way we kinda wanted it to.”

You could argue that a rest would be in order for players whose pre-season started way back in mid-June, but a change seems to be the preferred remedy — it has to be with a season grinding on — and a Leinster team unbeaten this season certainly provides that.

McGrath got to flush the toxins left over from the World Cup with 61 minutes against Connacht in Galway last Friday. The 31-point win, and the manner of it, spoke volumes again for why this environment must be so soothing to players bruised by their travails on national duty.

Leinster played some wonderful rugby against the home team at the Sportsground. Some of the movement and the fluidity of their attacking play was straight out of the Stuart Lancaster textbook and it is clear from McGrath how enjoyable this approach is.

“The pack were brilliant on Friday and laid down a marker. Our top try scorer is in the front row, which is something you don’t see very often. Porter finished off that first try very well but we are trying to play an expansive way but with structure in those facets.”

Leinster’s senior coach Stuart Lancaster spoke eloquently about his ‘unstructured chaos’ philosophy earlier this week. McGrath used the word ‘shock’ to describe what it felt like to step back into training sessions that ask everything of the lungs and demand clear and quick thinking and crisp execution when the oxygen tanks are close to empty.

It’s an exhilarating brand of rugby at the best of times and adding to the excitement in and around Leinster is the sense the best should be yet to come as they feed their Irish stars back into a squad that has been strengthened so much by the performances of younger men in their absence.

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