Luke McGrath likely to miss Wales encounter with knee injury
George North, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny look set to be fit for visitors
Luke McGrath is in doubt for Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Wales on Saturday after the scrumhalf picked up an injury playing for Leinster. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Luke McGrath looks certain to be unavailable for Ireland’s Six Nations Championship match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday after damaging a knee in Leinster’s 20-13 Pro14 victory over the Scarlets at the RDS.
The 25-year-old scrumhalf, who has six Ireland caps, the last of which was against Argentina in November, suffered a knee injury and limped from the field at the RDS after 48 minutes. The immediate prognosis was that he required a scan to ascertain the extent of the damage.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said: “Luke [McGrath], with his knee, we’ll see. I’m not sure. He has a bag of ice on it but he is moving around okay. He will get it scanned. He was due to go back into camp but we will make some assessments on what is best for his recovery.”
McGrath was expected to report to the Ireland camp at Carton House on Sunday night. He has been involved in an ongoing battle with Connacht’s Kieran Marmion to understudy the first choice Ireland scrumhalf, Conor Murray. McGrath was an used replacement during Ireland’s 15-13 victory over France in Paris while Marmion was chosen for the bench, coming on to replace Murray, in the victory over Italy at the Aviva Stadium.
The former St Michael’s pupil had looked very sharp against the Scarlets including running a brilliant support line in scoring his side’s third try shortly before picking up the injury.
From a Leinster perspective they will hope that having already lost Josh van der Flier (knee) and Robbie Henshaw (shoulder) that McGrath’s injury is not too serious with the Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens on Sunday, April 1st, in mind. If McGrath was to miss that match then Cullen would be forced to choose two from Jamison Gibson Park, James Lowe and Scott Fardy under the foreigner rule.
The Scarlets team contributed 10 players to the starting Welsh team in their opening two Six Nations matches, performances that have earned praise for the manner of the performance and the development of a more fluent attacking philosophy.
The head coach of the Pro14 champions, Wayne Pivac, offered his thoughts on how the Welsh national side has incorporated the Scarlets swashbuckling style into their game plan of late. He said: “I think Warren has said for some time that they’re going to expand the game and they’re clearly doing that.
“I’ve enjoyed the way they’ve played in the last couple of games. It’s set up for a good Six Nations. Ireland are playing well, England are unbeaten and Wales need a big performance against Ireland; who knows it could come down to that England v Ireland game. Certainly, I think, we’re seeing some good rugby in the Six Nations and that’s pleasing to see.”
From an attacking perspective Gatland will be pleased that George North – who started on the bench against England – returned to try scoring form for Northampton Saints against London Irish at the weekend, while fellow Lion Liam Williams is fit again following injury.
Leigh Halfpenny, a late withdrawal from the English match because of a foot infection, is expected to be available for the game against Ireland and the suggestion from across the Irish Sea is that he will start at fullback with Williams and North potentially returning to the wings despite good displays from Josh Adams and Steff Evans.
Gatland, will celebrate his 100th Test match in charge of Wales in Dublin, against the country which gave him his coaching debut in international rugby, when he led Ireland from 1998-2001. Despite his record of success at club and country, he hasn’t always received the plaudits that his achievements merited, a point taken up by Welsh hooker Ken Owens.
“Both inside and outside of Wales, for some reason, he’s [Gatland] always had to, not explain himself, but prove himself despite helping transform Wales. We have won three [Six Nations] championships and two Grand Slams in the last 10 years, and he has won one Lions series and drawn the other.
“He is a very good man manager. Some boys need a cwtch [cuddle] or a bit of a look-after every now and again, and others need the stick. It’s a bit of both.” Owens argues that Gatland has shown an ability to tweak and adapt patterns to win matches and that games against Ireland carry a special resonance.
“He [Gatland] enjoys playing the Irish. He and the coaches do, whether that’s because of rivalries because Gats played and coached at Connacht and coached the Irish team, or because he has coached the Irish boys on Lions tours, there is a rivalry there.
“They are up there with the best sides, and they’ve been one of our biggest rivals over the last 10 years. There is that special something between the Welsh and the Irish.”