Ireland prop Jack McGrath believes Wales have learned the lessons of their opening round defeat to England as the sides prepare to meet at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
England came from 16-8 behind at half-time in Cardiff to overcome Warren Gatland’s men and the second half saw the Welsh overpowered at the scrum time by the visitors. However, Jack McGrath reckons Wales’ scrummaging performance in their 20-13 win over France last time out has them back close to their best.
“I thought Wales ground out the game pretty well and played pretty clever. It’s pretty tough to go over to France and do what they did to them in the scrum and general play. They’re obviously going to be massively disappointed after losing that game (at home to England), the first of the Championship,” said McGrath, who has held onto his loosehead starting spot ahead of the fit-again Cian Healy.
“I think everyone had them tipped to win, especially at home. So for us, it’s back to basics and back to doing our homework. Our scrum went well against England, but there’s always improvements to be made and we’ll be looking to do that this weekend.”
This will be McGrath’s fourth successive RBS 6 Nations start after making five appearances off the bench during last year’s title-winning run. He admitted to not being too sure about his position this week as Healy has got more game-time with Leinster on his way back from a hamstring tear.
The Irish management are in an enviable position in having two looseheads of the quality of McGrath and Healy to choose from, with head coach Joe Schmidt delighted with the high standards McGrath has maintained since starting against South Africa last November.
“Cian’s getting better all the time, but at the same time Jack has played extraordinarily well. He set a real benchmark against South Africa, I thought his first half against South Africa was as good as I’ve ever seen Jack play,” said Schmidt.
“He’s maintained that level of form and he’s made things difficult for Cian to get back in. Cian is definitely knocking on the door. He’s getting closer to full fitness at each training run we have and he’s going to give us great value off the bench this week.
“Between the two of them it will be another tough decision for the following week. For us it was just about making sure we reward the guy who has been doing a really good job in the jersey and keep people challenged to step back into it.”
McGrath spoke this week about the confidence which Schmidt has placed in him in giving him the number 1 jersey, explaining: “He gives you confidence in every aspect of your game and it’s always positive stuff. Like everyone says, he gets you to raise your level of performance and it’s just the minor details.
“If you get something wrong, you nearly feel bad because he works so hard himself. So, it’s taking pride in your own thing you want to do as a player, knowing your plays and a lot of it comes down to his knowledge. He has such high standards.”
McGrath will want to repay Schmidt’s faith in him with another power-packed display up front. The 25-year-old is undoubtedly a good example of the modern day prop who scrums well and exerts plenty of influence in open play too, particularly at the breakdown and as a ball carrier.
“I think you have to be fit, have to be athletic, have to be a clever player, have to know your role. The days are gone of walking from scrum to scrum…some might say unfortunately, or some old school props might say unfortunately! But that’s the way the game has gone. A lot of front rows are like back rows now, poaching and getting into those sort of positions.
“There’s definitely a lot demanded of you, but it’s only going to improve you as a player. That’s the type of player I am, I like to do a good bit of work, do my carrying, do my tackles, do my stuff around ruck time and be able to scrum and lift and maul well, it’s obviously a bonus.”
The ever-improving Dubliner will scrum down against the Scarlets’ Samson Lee on Saturday, a player he says has grown stronger and ‘played exceptionally well’ since getting a four-match run at tighthead during Wales’ autumn internationals.
Commenting on the Irish pack’s preparations with scrum coach Greg Feek, he added: “We’d have a scrum meeting during the week and then there’s a lot of prep going into yourself, looking at your opposite number at scrum time. A lot of it is individual and a small part of it is in a group.
“Listen, it’s a bit of experience, a bit of watching video, a bit of getting guys to replicate it in training, a bit of having played against those guys. A lot of the guys we’re playing with have played against these (Welsh) guys numerous times, so it’s a mix of everything.”