Jack McGrath’s Ireland misfortune is Leinster’s opportunity, according to the province’s scrum coach John Fogarty.
The Leinster loosehead prop featured just once in Ireland’s November internationals, against Fiji, with Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne selected for the South Africa and Argentina tests.
It’s a new situation for the 28 year-old prop who has been one of the first choice players under Schmidt since after the 2015 World Cup.
McGrath was the starting No1 in the last three Six Nations championships, and came off the bench in all three Lions tests last summer in New Zealand.
The Dubliner made his debut in Joe Schmidt’s first game in charge of Ireland, against Samoa in November 2013, and has won 42 caps since.
Only one was added this month, but Fogarty does not expect it to affect McGrath’s performances ahead of the upcoming Champions Cup double header against Exeter Chiefs.
“I’ve no experience of what it’s like to go from a season into an off-season with an Ireland tour or a Lions tour and into another season, they’re mentally right up here,” he said, with a raised hand.
“Sometimes there are little dips that happen in form and, whether that’s a mental thing that you can see in their game or whatever, that does happen to those guys. Particularly guys like Jack, the last four years he’s been one of the top performers, there are little dips, but then they find it very quickly.
“I know a guy like Jack is going to use all the emotion in that disappointment, use it in the right way to sharpen. Those guys are going to work very, very hard toward the Six Nations.”
Instead of looking to a drop off in McGrath’s form, though, Fogarty preferred to look at Cian Healy’s performances.
“You have to credit what Cian has done over the last number of years to get him to this point which has led to that game time he has gotten,” he said.
“For us at the end of last year you could really see him put performances together. This season for us and Ireland he has had some big moments. He is healthy and he is confident. I think it says more about that group of looseheads and what they are doing. I certainly don’t think Jack is in a big slump.” Sean Cronin missed out on the Ireland squad entirely this month, with Schmidt giving James Tracy and Rob Herring the chance to stake their claim as Rory Best’s understudy.
The Leinster hooker has won 56-caps and is well known to Schmidt, and Fogarty has backed him to take the disappointment and channel it in the correct way over the next month.
“It creates an edge, certainly in his mind, an extra edge,” Fogarty said. “When you get left out, being the competitor he is, there’s going to be another edge to because you want to prove your worth every time you play.
“Those two players feel there’s more in them and rightly so they’ll go to work. Sean has been excellent, unbelievably good over the last couple of weeks. He showed an initial bit of disappointment not to be in that camp, but christ he has worked really hard to improve every part of his game. You can see him doing extra bits after sessions.
“He’s showing that edge midweek which is where you want players to be showing it. I think Jack is going to follow the same route.”
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