Italy must be wary of my old school chum McLaughlin

February 3, 2010

Italy’s marauding pack should tread carefully if they think they can pick on Ireland’s debut flanker Kevin McLaughlin in Saturday’s Six Nations opener.

Why? Because this writer has been there, done that and has the mental schoolboy scars to prove it.

Ireland’s new number six and I were in the same school – Dublin’s Gonzaga College – and being a year older, my brief and markedly different rugby career met his over a decade ago.

Traditionally, the best of the school’s youngest year played the also-rans of the year ahead in an end of season grudge match. School corridor tussles were made legal for 70 minutes.

While they may have been better, we were bigger and possessing a pair of thighs twice the size of anyone else’s, it was my job to try and bulldoze through all comers.

Tap penalties were taken on in the spirit of Jonah Lomu circa 1995 with chests out and heads up, hoping to trample on a scrumhalf here or catch a brave flanker with a painful knee there.

That plan lasted about 10 minutes.

With a dump tackle that made Gavin Henson’s famous dusting down of Mathew Tait look like an ankle tap, the opposing number eight put an end to any further confident marches by lifting me high and dropping me hard.

I’m pretty sure he ran and carried me a few yards before letting go, just for kicks.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Nor were the sympathetic groans from a sideline packed with schoolmates that quickly turned to collective laughter.

Lying there, trying to recapture breath and dignity, the scrum-capped head familiar to Leinster fans this season, leant over to apologise. Providing the final insult, his voice hadn’t even broken yet.

While a scrum of reporters on the sidelines of a news conference is the closest this sheepish writer’s come to reliving that day, McLaughlin has travelled a long, injury-filled road to this weekend’s international summit.

On the verge of abandoning rugby for a career in banking 12 months ago, he’s had an extraordinary few months and any Italian forward would be wise to keep their head down when darting towards him on Saturday.

PHOTO: Ireland’s team celebrate after defeating Wales in their Six Nations rugby union match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales March 21, 2009. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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