Jack McGrath is one of a growing breed of homegrown loose-head prop forwards giving new Irish coach Joe Schmidt added cover in that area.
However, the coach is struggling to get the right balance either side of the scrum, with a serious shortage of suitable tight head props available. McGrath clearly doesn’t solve that problem but adds to a long list of loose heads at Schmidt’s disposal.
McGrath, 24, earns his stripes for the first time at the Aviva Stadium in Ireland’s opening Guinness international clash, against Samoa tomorrow, winning that first cap ahead of his much more experienced Leinster colleague Cian Healy.
However, Schmidt articulated his concerns regarding the dearth of tight heads: “I’d still have concerns about the tight-head side of the scrum in terms of numbers coming through, without meaning to show disrespect for the current tight-heads available.
“It’s great to see guys emerge, and it’s particularly great to see the number of loose-heads,” said Schmidt.
He went on: “Obviously Dave Kilcoyne has burst on the scene last year and he’s not far away from being involved with us. There’s James Cronin who’s then putting pressure on Dave in Munster, there’s a couple of really good loose-heads up in Ulster as well.
“So I think from that perspective, that gives us a bit of security. On the other side of the scrum there is still concern that we can probably get thin pretty quickly in that position.”
Considering Kilcoyne and the promising Cronin are left in limbo for now, it’s a fair indication of the riches at Schmidt’s disposal.
Schmidt is confident he has made the right call with McGrath: “Jack played a lot more than Heinke (van der Merwe) last year. He started in the Amlin Challenge Cup final so there is a bit of confidence in him, having faced up to some pretty good challenges in the past. His form has been really good this year.”
The youngster was overjoyed with the elevation “I’m delighted. It is a great honour for me and the family.”
McGrath is relishing the opportunity after getting good game time for Leinster this season: “Game time is massive as I need a string of games to keep myself going and keep fitness up.”
He expects a physical encounter from a Samoa side ranked seventh in the IRB list, one above Ireland.
“They’re a very tough side. The spine of their team is from Top 14 and Premiership, two of the best leagues in the world. For me Census Johnston is going to be a tough operator; I’m looking forward to that challenge,” said McGrath.
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