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McGrath: Front Row Ready For Key Scrum Battle

McGrath: Front Row Ready For Key Scrum Battle

Ireland prop Jack McGrath feels the fact that the French have said they will target the Irish scrum is perfect motivation ahead of this evening’s RBS 6 Nations encounter at the Aviva Stadium.

France head coach Philippe Saint-André even mentioned that his reasoning behind leaving Vincent Debaty on the bench was to target Irish replacement tighthead Martin Moore, whom he battled with in the closing stages of last March’s game at the Stade de France.

“Yeah definitely (it’s motivating). Last year I suppose they did show they were on top in the scrum. For me it’s been a bit of a change because I was coming on from the bench, but now I’m actually starting, so it’s a different kind of challenge for me,” admitted loosehead prop Jack McGrath, who is primed for his second successive RBS 6 Nations start.

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“But I think we’re definitely up to the challenge. If we keep our basics right we’ll get over the line. With France, when they are backed into a corner that’s when they are most dangerous, somebody can just cut the line or one of their big players can make a line break.

“They can show that French flair at any point – they’ve been doing that since the beginning of rugby time, so it’s something we’ll all have to be aware of.”

There has been very little between these teams in recent years with two draws in Dublin and Paris followed by last year’s narrow 22-20 victory for Joe Schmidt’s men which clinched the Championship title for them.

The French pack has plenty of bulk to it – starting props Eddy Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani both tip the scales in and around 18 stone, lock Yoann Maestri is almost 19 stone and reserves Uini Atonio, Debaty and Romain Taofifenua will also pack a punch off the bench.

McGrath knows an improvement on the performance against Italy is needed to compete against the robust French eight.

Commenting on this weekend’s opposition, he said: “I think they’re a little bit unorthodox with the things that they do. And if you underestimate them, that’s probably when they’re at their most dangerous. I think for us, it obviously wasn’t the best performance against Italy but we got the win and we got out of there. So at home this week we’ll be looking for a better performance.

“I would think the French are probably technically good (scrummagers). They are probably not as strict as maybe Italy or England, but they are notorious for getting themselves out of certain positions. When they look stuck they will stand up and walk around, so for us as a pack we need to try to stay square and be as honest as we can for the referee to make a decision.”

The St. Mary’s College clubman reckons England were the ‘standout team’ from the opening round of the 2015 RBS 6 Nations, following their comeback win away to Wales which saw them score 13 unanswered points in Cardiff.

With his Leinster and Ireland rival Cian Healy fit enough for a place on the bench against France, McGrath is clearly relishing the competition between the pair as the tournament progresses.

“It’s great to have a player of Cian’s quality back, it only strengthens the squad. As we always say you need two quality players in each position to challenge for any Championship, so it is great – but it is like it’s always been, you raise your performance when a guy behind you is pushing for your place.”

There was also good news for the Irish front row in Rory Best’s recovery from the head injury he sustained early in the second half against Italy. The Ulsterman resumes at hooker to win his 80th Ireland cap today.

Having been in a similar situation where he was concussed and played two weeks later, McGrath spoke about the mindset needed to prepare for the game.

“I think what they did was absolutely perfect, he got a knock, I don’t think he was necessarily that bad, but with a player of Sean Cronin’s quality (on the bench), why risk Besty, especially if you’re unsure…you may as well just can it and get him right for next week.

“It’s not the end of the world that he got that knock and he’d probably have been worse had he played on. You saw in other games that that can be a bit of an issue,” added the 25-year-old Dubliner.