Belfast Telegraph

McGrath is hoping Leinster can emulate Japan's high skill levels

Quality stuff: Luke McGrath was blown away by Japan
Quality stuff: Luke McGrath was blown away by Japan

By Cian Tracey

It wasn't a vantage point that Luke McGrath wanted, but for the first 68 minutes of Ireland's shock defeat to Japan he watched from the sideline as the Brave Blossoms' rip-roaring approach tore his side to shreds.

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He then got to experience it first-hand for the closing stages from the unusual position of the wing as bodies dropped and the carnage unfolded.

Japan's thrilling style left a lasting impression on everyone who watched them at the World Cup, and that wasn't lost on the Ireland players either.

Every team has to play to their strengths of course and the job that Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown did with the host nation offered an alternative to the power game that the likes of South Africa produced.

There has been a lot said about Leinster's style under Stuart Lancaster and in particular his 'comfortable in chaos' mantra.

It's one in which Japan epitomised and one that the Leinster players are relishing the chance to return to following the more pragmatic nature of the international set-up.

"The Japanese skill levels were incredible and the speed that they were playing at," McGrath said.

"They were able to reload and the two-sided attack was able to cause us trouble. I admire the way they were attacking with the ball.

"They were putting us under pressure and the way they played was great to see. Hopefully we can do something similar."

During Lancaster's famed 'Stuesday' training sessions, the Leinster players are put under pressure in terms of their fitness and then they are asked to maintain a high skill level.

It takes guys out of their comfort zone and that sink or swim mentally is ultimately what helps drive the standards within the club.

"It's difficult, very tough on the lungs, a lot of running," McGrath explained.

"Making good decisions under pressure is what we are trying to get a lot better at.

"We wouldn't have the biggest team, especially when you are coming up against the Italian and French sides.

"We try to run teams around the place and be comfortable on the ball. It was a shock getting back last week and into them but it is a great way to play, very enjoyable.

"Our phase play leading us into the 22 and then the forwards kind of taking over. The pack were brilliant on Friday and laid down a marker.

"Our top try scorer is in the front-row, which is something you don't see very often. (Andrew) Porter finished off that first try very well but we are trying to play an expansive way but with structure in those facets."

McGrath is one of the Ireland players who you feel will have benefited from what was his first World Cup experience.

He didn't play as often as he would have ideally liked, but he has returned to Leinster full of confidence, eager to prove that he has improved his all-round game.

"I'd like to think so in the long-term," the scrum-half maintained.

"In the short-term, it's just more disappointment.

"But the pressure of playing in those big games, the atmosphere... you got to play in front of huge Irish crowds, it was a class experience and that will live long with me.

"Every player wants to play more but the competition for places... the way it happened against Japan, there were a lot of injuries in the back-line so I had to come on on the wing, which I wouldn't usually have to do.

"Things like that were a little bit frustrating but it's more frustrating as a team, as a 31, the fact that we didn't reach our potential."

McGrath looked sharp on his return in last week's win over Connacht and with Benetton arriving at the RDS on Saturday, Leinster are primed to start a new European Champions Cup campaign on the front foot.

"There's a lot of optimism in the club which is what we needed after the World Cup," the 26-year-old added.

"When we were away we saw the results and saw the team going very well, which is brilliant.

"So when we come back and integrate, we have to reach the standard in training of the young lads who have got caps, which is brilliant, and they've been going really well at the start of the season.

"Now it's a European week and it's going to be brilliant, there's huge competition for places, which should drive all of us on."

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