Rugby Union

Jack McGrath relishing new challenge with Ulster Rugby

Ireland's Jack McGrath celebrates after winning the Grand Slam during the NatWest 6 Nations match at Twickenham Stadium, London on Saturday March 17, 2018. Picture by Paul Harding/PA Wire.
John Flack

JACK McGrath is determined to put the disappointment of missing out on Ireland's World Cup squad behind him and is relishing a new challenge with Ulster after his summer move from Leinster.

The British and Irish Lions loose head prop will join two other marquee signings in Sam Carter and Matt Faddes in the starting line-up for tonight's PRO14 opener against the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium.

The 29-year-old Dubliner, who played in all three tests on the Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017, says it was one of the lowest points of his career when he got the dreaded phone call from Schmidt.

"Obviously it's not a great call to get and, for me, I was obviously upset for a couple of days but I tried to step back and take the positives from it," said McGrath.

"The opportunity was there to go to a new club and hit the ground running and play hopefully a lot of games at the start of the season, because I hadn't played a lot last season which was just frustrating.

"So for me I just needed to get back playing rugby. It's a blessing in disguise not getting picked, it is pretty painful, but I am taking the positives from it to come up here and get stuck in."

First impressions of his new club have been good for McGrath who becomes the latest in a growing list of Ireland and former Leinster players to have moved north, joining Jordi Murphy who arrived in Belfast last season and John Cooney, now in his third term with Ulster.

"Obviously I spoke to [head coach] Dan [McFarland] and what he put on the table for me definitely helped my decision coming up here and the ideas that he had going forward and what I could bring to the squad and what other guys that were coming could bring," he explained.

"And it was the opportunity of a new challenge, having been in Leinster for so long, just stepping outside your comfort zone is good for growth and for me, at this particular time in my career.

"So I thought I would grab it with both hands and I am relishing every opportunity I get because it's a top quality set-up, and everything around it is great."

Winning trophies at both domestic and European level is nothing new to McGrath whereas Ulster haven't won any silverware since their Celtic League success in 2006.

But he believes Ulster aren't too far away and that his experience can help McFarland's team in their attempt to end the drought after they reached the knock-out stages of both competitions last season.

"I am lucky enough to have been involved in some special days with rugby teams and that definitely helps, because you can let guys know that they're not a million miles away from actually doing it," he said.

"There's a lot of young guys and a lot of fearlessness in the squad going forward, but there's also a few older lads who can keep their feet on the ground.

"Sometimes you sort of have to get very close to winning a trophy before you actually win one so the improvement from last year compared to seasons previously was massive and it's building. We have recruited well so I think it's going to be a good season."

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