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McGrath aiming to star in Chicago to ramp up the pressure on rival Healy

 

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Big chance: Jack McGrath is pushing for Irish starting slot

Big chance: Jack McGrath is pushing for Irish starting slot

©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Big chance: Jack McGrath is pushing for Irish starting slot

Jack McGrath has happy memories of Chicago, so it will come as no surprise to learn that he is hoping to find himself back in the Windy City next week.

Starting in the historic win over the All Blacks two years ago came at a time when McGrath had really made the loosehead spot his own, but it hasn't been as straightforward in more recent times.

Cian Healy's emphatic return to full fitness saw McGrath slip back down the pecking order, before a knee injury hampered his start to the season.

The 29-year-old is still working his way back to the peak of his powers and Saturday's run-out in Treviso, when McGrath is expected to start, is very timely indeed.

A host of Leinster players who were named in the Ireland squad yesterday are due to make the trip to Italy, which will provide them with a last chance to impress Joe Schmidt before the game against Conor O'Shea's side at Soldier Field next weekend.

McGrath has plenty of credit in the bank when it comes to international selection, not least because he started two of Ireland's games in Australia during the successful summer series win.

As has been the case for the majority of his career, however, he has the small matter of Healy to contend with.

"It was great to get two starts over there (Australia)," McGrath says.

"It was a difficult season. Obviously we had won the trophies and everything like that but you want to be starting a few more games.

"It does keep the focus. It's peculiar, two top-quality looseheads fighting for the one position in the same club.

"You want to be starting but there is no doubt that Cian is playing very good rugby so it's up to me to pry the jersey from him.

"But I'm a team man and I'll do whatever I need to do as part of that team to help them do whatever we need to do.

"I am competitive, Cian is competitive. I think we bring the best out of each other. It was a nice way to top off the end of the year and to win down there is incredible for the first time in 70 years. It just topped off the year altogether."

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Treviso are a rapidly improving side and beat Leinster at the RDS last season. If you add the fact that the double champions come into this weekend on the back of a defeat to Toulouse and also with the likes of McGrath eager to stake their claim for the November internationals, motivation will not be in short supply.

"I just do what Leo (Cullen) wants me to do and to try and put my hand up for selection whenever I take the field. Hopefully, I get the nod and push myself into selection down the line."

Schmidt will experiment somewhat with his team to play Italy and with Healy expected to start the following week against Argentina, McGrath will be hoping to get the nod for Chicago.

The St Mary's man got his only start of last season's Grand Slam campaign against Italy with Healy dropping to the bench.

The Ireland head coach said back in February: "I think based on November form, when he (Healy) was last in with us he was very good. And it could well go tit for tat during the championship because they're both very competitive."

However, with an extra game in the upcoming November series, there is a little extra room for Schmidt to rotate his squad for the busy month ahead.

"This year we are going to get a chance to come up against a lot of quality teams," McGrath adds.

"That All Blacks team is especially one and how much Argentina have improved.

"They are taking scalps right, left and centre and again it is building towards the Six Nations and building towards the World Cup.

"So every game that we get is an opportunity to improve and get a little bit more cohesion as a squad."


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