Much has been made of the Scots’ away troubles in the Six Nations, with only six wins on the road in 18 seasons. Their hammering by Wales in the opening round last month extended that into a 19th campaign and Gregor Townsend’s side will arrive in Dublin this weekend with just a single win in the Irish capital, dating back to 2010 at Croke Park.
McGrath would prefer to concentrate on a different set of reference points, however, not least the fact Scotland’s tails are up following a raucous Murrayfield win over auld enemies England last time out as they won the Calcutta Cup aloft for the first time since 2008. Add in Ireland’s chastening opening-day defeat in Edinburgh in 2017 and analysis of where those Scottish performances happen is pointless as far as the Lions loosehead is concerned.
“I think at this stage they have so many quality and experienced players that it doesn’t matter if they’re at home or away,” McGrath said. “The guys they have in their pack and the guys they have around nine/10, they’re driven and it doesn’t matter where they are.
“Obviously when you are at home, the crowd gives you a little bit of a boost but they’re together so long that I can’t imagine an away fixture would put them off their game at all. Sure they beat Australia in Australia over the summer.”
Also relevant, McGrath said yesterday, was the new Scottish coaching ticket of former Glasgow Warriors boss Gregor Townsend and his forwards’ coach Dan McFarland, the former Connacht and Ireland U20s assistant.
“Under Gregor and Dan McFarland, they are different. Dan knows a lot of the players he’s going to be coming up against. They’re two quality coaches, they have a lot of quality players and they’re doing a lot of good things with those players.”
Ireland have so far negated anything that has come their way in this Six Nations, at least in terms of staying unbeaten with that narrow win over France in Paris, and home victories over Italy and Wales which leaves Joe Schmidt’s side five points clear at the top of the table on 14 points from a possible 15.
The Irish camp needs no reminding that they now sit just 160 minutes from a first Grand Slam since 2009 and could win a third championship title in five seasons if results go their way this weekend. Yet McGrath is motivated by different incentives.
“We owe a good performance against Scotland because we didn’t do ourselves justice last year, so we really want to get stuck into them, and they’ll be looking to get stuck into us. It will be a tight, hard-fought game and we’re not looking past it.”