Ireland prop Jack McGrath admits his World Cup omission has been “pretty painful” and one of the lowest points of his career.
Having to take the dreaded phone call from head coach Joe Schmidt, and being told he hadn’t made the cut for the 31-man squad travelling to Japan, floored him for several days before he felt able to start the search for anything positive to take from a serious knockback.
Leinster’s former European Cup and league-winning front-rower found it at Ulster, where he has been channelling his World Cup disappointment, and trying to use it to help him make a successful start to life at his new club.
“Obviously it’s not a great phone call to get from Joe, I was upset for a couple of days, but I tried to step back and take the positives from it.
“The opportunity was there to go to a new club and hit the ground running and play hopefully a lot of games at the start of the season, because I hadn’t played a lot last season, which was just frustrating.
“So for me I just needed to get back playing rugby.
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise not getting picked, it is pretty painful, but I am taking the positives from it, to come up here and get stuck in.”
McGrath is potentially one injury away from a quick flit to Japan, yet while his heart might be secretly yearning for that, his head is where it needs to be. “To be honest, I’m not even thinking about that (World Cup call-up).
“I am staying fit here and my full focus is with Ulster.
“Obviously you keep an eye on over there but my full focus is here because everything is new. I have new plays, new lineouts, I have everything to learn, and trying to remember everyone’s name as well is a challenge in itself!
“I knew about 60% of guys anyway from international and stuff, like I know everyone now but it’s just kind of getting to know them a little bit better I suppose.
“There is a great bunch of lads here and I’m loving the coaching set-up, so it’s been a brilliant couple of weeks.”
Leaving a winning set-up at Leinster to move to a club that hasn’t won a trophy in 13 years was, McGrath accepts, “a difficult decision to make”.
However, at 29 years of age, with a glut of medals and 56 international caps, he has nothing to prove to anyone and says the opportunity to step outside his comfort zone and try something new interested him.
“I had been in Leinster for so long so it is good for growth and for me, at this particular time in my career, I thought I would grab it with both hands.
“I am lucky enough to have been involved in some special days with rugby teams and that definitely helps, because you can let guys know that they’re not a million miles away from actually doing it.
“There’s a lot of young guys and a lot of fearlessness in the squad going forward, but there’s also a few older lads who can keep their feet on the ground.”
McGrath is one of three new Ulster signings making his first appearance for the club in tonight’s PRO14 season opener against the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium. Australian lock Sam Carter and New Zealand full-back Matt Faddes also start.
ULSTER: M Faddes; C Gilroy, L Marshall, J Hume, R Lyttle; B Burns, J Cooney; J McGrath, R Herring (Capt), T O’Toole, K Treadwell, S Carter, M Rea, J Murphy, S Reidy.
Replacements: J Andrew, E O’Sullivan, R Kane, A O’Connor, G Jones, D Shanahan, M Lowry, L Ludik.
OSPREYS: D Evans; L Morgan, S Williams, C Allen, K Giles; L Price, M Aubrey; R Jones, S Parry, T Botha, L Ashley, J King, D Lydiate, O Cracknell, G Evans.
Replacements: S Otten, G Thomas, G Gajion, S Cross, D Baker, R Morgan-Williams, C Evans, T Thomas-Wheeler.