Nick McCarthy says he’ll be ready to rock if he’s selected by Leinster in next month’s Champions Cup final in Bilbao.
The 23-year-old scrum-half has come off the bench in both of the province’s knockout games so far — 15 minutes against Saracens and nine minutes against Scarlets last weekend.
With Luke McGrath, the first choice No 9, in a race to prove his fitness after an ankle injury, McCarthy has become an ever more important member of the Leinster squad.
Jamison Gibson-Park enjoyed a strong day out against Scarlets in the semi-final but he’s likely to miss out on the final if McGrath returns to fitness.
With Leinster only allowed to field two players from Australia or New Zealand in any matchday 23, Leo Cullen would have to choose between James Lowe and Gibson-Park with Scott Fardy a certain starter in Bilbao.
Lowe provides an X-factor input that could be priceless in the final, meaning Gibson-Park is likely to miss out.
So, whichever way you look at it — McCarthy looks more than likely to be involved in Spain one way or another. It’s a huge step up for a player who has made just three starts for the province thus far.
“I only played four games last year and it is hard to feel fully part of the team when you are slotting in and out,” he said. “You don’t feel that comfortable in the environment because you just haven’t done it enough.
“It’s a bit more seamless slotting in now because you are just a bit more used to it and you can back yourself that bit more so really enjoying it.”
McCarthy has 18 appearances to his name this season including those Champions Cup games — two huge occasions that will stand to him if he appears in the San Mames stadium next month.
“When you are young you build up the big games so when you get that opportunity to play in the Aviva in front of 50,000 people it is absolutely massive,” he said.
“You learn a lot in the big games, even leading up to it. The preparation goes up another level in those big games and you just learn a lot from Johnny Sexton and Isa Nacewa and these guys.
"They help you out and give you pointers here and there. That makes a big difference. I was a lot more prepared for the big game [v Scarlets].
McCarthy recalls watching Sexton and Nacewa fire Leinster to European glory in his teenage years and has praise for their continued positive impact on the province.
“There is so much preparation that goes into these games, the detail is so fine for them that it is almost like international rugby, but these guys have played hundreds of big games before so anything you can learn off them is huge,” he said.
“Having those players around you does settle you a good bit and gives you a good bit of confidence.”
Having such talent around the dressing room has been key to the rapid improvement of Leinster’s youthful squad, and another reason young players like McCarthy are willing to hang around.
“There’s a brilliant buzz around Leinster at the moment, it’s probably one of the best clubs to be in,” McCarthy said.
“We are winning most weeks and it is a really good environment and everyone is trying to get better so as a squad player you are just trying to put your hand up any chance you get.
“They are quite fair in that everyone gets their chance to show what they can do so it is up to you then to take your opportunity.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved