Jump to main content



McGrath Relishing Front Row Duel With Castrogiovanni

McGrath Relishing Front Row Duel With Castrogiovanni

A year ago Jack McGrath was preparing for his first RBS 6 Nations campaign. He had made the most of replacement appearances against Australia and New Zealand and added five more caps from the bench during the 2014 Championship. The prop also chipped in with his first try in the penultimate game at home to Italy.

Many Irish players have gone through their entire careers without winning a Championship, but Jack McGrath’s performances in a 12-month period saw him go from being a Leinster regular and an Emerging Ireland representative to standing on the winners’ podium in Paris last March.

Now, he is just part of the furniture in the Irish camp and dressing room. In Cian Healy’s absence, McGrath will make his first RBS 6 Nations start in Rome on Saturday – a moment he will savour.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

He will see come up against reigning European Cup winner Martin Castrogiovanni, who has a wealth of international experience, 107 Test caps in comparison to his young rival’s twelve. It is a huge test which McGrath is looking forward to.

“For me you just have to look after your own job. I wouldn’t be worried about them too much or what they’re saying to me…Castro’s been there, over 100 caps, he has every trick in the book,” he said.

“With Rory (Best) and Rossy (Mike Ross) beside me, I’d be confident I can go in and be able to do a job and hopefully cause a bit of damage.

“I’ve been watching him (Castrogiovanni) for years. He is a guy if you’re a young tighthead you look towards, so I would have seen him with guys who wanted to play tighthead – they’d talk about him. You know you’re going to come up against him at some stage, so you see what he’s like. He’s the type of guy you have to respect, but you have to go in and make him respect you.”

But the focus for McGrath this week has primarily been on his preparation alongside two Irish front row stalwarts in hooker Best (78 caps) and tighthead Ross (44). Having played side by side with Ross at Leinster and against Ross in training, their ability instills confidence in the 25-year-old. 

“Rossy is looking well. He’s an experienced guy. He knows his body. He knows what fitness to do to look after himself. The coaches have to trust him – (even though) maybe he hasn’t played much in the last few weeks – to put him in there, and he’s well able for it.

“Rory is incredible player, his experience…even in the scrum, certain stuff he says that you wouldn’t even think about is really helpful. I’ve played with him a few times and I think we’ve gone well. It’s great to have him there. He gets on with a job, he’s not going to take a backward step.”

What Best, McGrath and Ross will look to do is upset the Italians early on in front of their home crowd and put the pressure on the hosts. Despite some close calls, the Italians have only beaten Ireland once in Six Nations fare.

McGrath feels that if they can prevent the Azzurri from getting a foothold in the game, Joe Schmidt’s men can build from there and set themselves up for a result – just as they did in last year’s meeting which Ireland won 46-7 at the Aviva Stadium.

“Their scrum, their lineout and maul, they really want to shove that in your face. If we can meet them in that area and maybe go one better – that’s what we ideally want to do. But it’s not just doing it once, it’s going at it every time, because if you give them a sniff there’s massive confidence there.

“Especially at home, because the crowd is going to get right behind them and really rally them. It’s up to us as a pack to really get stuck into them early. Obviously they are unbelievably passionate people. The scrum and lineout are their bread and butter – that’s always been the case – so it’s going to be really tough.”

With a shoulder injury curtailing Jamie Heaslip’s preparations, his absence gives an opportunity to another of McGrath’s Leinster team-mates, Jordi Murphy, who will also be making his first Championship start on Saturday.

Alongside Murphy in the back row is the returning Sean O’Brien who has not worn an Irish Test jersey since November 2013’s defeat to New Zealand. Having proven his fitness with a run-out for the Ireland Wolfhounds in Cork last weekend, O’Brien will feature at openside flanker in Rome.

McGrath added: “Jordi has come back (from a shoulder injury and surgery) and it shows the quality of the player. He’s slotted back in with Leinster and he’s playing great rugby.

“It’s great for him to get his first Six Nations start. Hes a quality player, a really smart player, good lineout operator. He’s just got the whole package I suppose and Joe wouldn’t put him in there if he didn’t trust him.

“I played with Seanie (for the Wolfhounds against England Saxons) last week. He’s a great leader out there – carrying the ball and even on the other side of the ball in defence. It’s great, it’s an exciting pack to be in.

“Cian is obviously a world class player. I’ll play this game and see how I get on, then put it into Joe’s hands with selection. All I can do is the best I can do and if he feels he has to select me again, he has to select me again. If not, he wouldn’t.”