LEINSTER’S JACK MCGRATH has revealed he was close to signing for a rival province before he signed a two-year deal last season.
The 24-year-old prop made his 50th cap for Leinster in their 19-6 win over Ulster at the weekend. 31 of McGrath’s provincial appearances, however, have been off the bench with his major breakthrough occurring at the end of last season. He previously found his path blocked by Cian Healy and South Africa’s Heinke van der Merwe.
“For me it has been gradual as I had to wait two or three years with the lads there in front of me,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to be able to get that opportunity and I’ve been able to take it. With the few lads being injured, they kind of depend on you now. You have to be able to look after that position.”
Having made his Leinster debut in April 2010, it must have been frustrating for McGrath to find himself used fleetingly until van der Merwe moved on. He commented, “There would have been [frustration], yeah, but I was told to just keep on in there — keep plugging away — and to keep doing what I was doing. Luckily, the opportunities came and I was able to take them.
But, yeah, there was definitely an inkling to leave on a couple of occasions but, thank God, I didn’t. It would have been in-country but it never came to a head. It was more me thinking about it but it was never in talks as such.”
Given that Leinster and Connacht has proved a regular conduit for players in recent years, it is likely that McGrath was considering a move out west to gain first-team rugby for a year or two. He signed a two-year contract with Leinster in April.
McGrath’s thirst for action has been sated and he has even made strides with Ireland, winning the man-of-the-match award on his Test debut against Samoa. He feels, however, there is a lot more to lear.
“Experience is a strange thing,” he remarked. “As you play more, you get more experience. Every game you play you are learning more and lads who are 30 and 35 are still learning. Definitely, experience for big games is something that will come but for games in general, you take it game by game and get your rhythm.”
McGrath came off the bench in the home win over Ulster last Saturday as Jack O’Connell, another talented loose-head, got his starting chance and nullified Declan Fitzpatrick. After defeats to Northampton Saints and Edinburgh, the prop says the monkey is now off Leinster’s back.
‘Niggly’ Connacht are next on the agenda and McGrath will be eager to show the province what they missed out on. He said, “There are guys you know there who are always trying to get one up on you. It’s definitely a challenge and we’re relishing it as a team.”
“We’re not going there to not try and score tries and not disrespect them. We’re going down there with the height of respect but we’re going to meet them front on. I think it will be a good battle,” he added.
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