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14th Oct 2016

Former Clontarf scrum-half hoping to team up with Dan Carter to defeat Munster

Ronan O'Gara impressed at his progress

Patrick McCarry

All James Hart dreamt of, as a teenager, was playing for Leinster in Europe and helping them take down the likes of Munster.

On Saturday, Hart comes face to face with Munster but in the white and light blue [and heavily sponsored] jersey of Racing 92.

The 25-year-old scrumhalf had a circuitous route into professional rugby after Leinster told him, on the same day he got his Leaving Cert results, that he would not be offered an academy deal.

With the rest of the provinces stocked up for the coming season, Hart had to content himself with getting as much game time for Clontarf’s U20s. Breaking into the senior team was his new goal but he would get another shot at life as a professional.

Having coached him at Clontarf, and witnessed a zeal for training and self-improvement, Bernard Jackman invited him to Grenoble, where he was working as defence coach, in 2013. Hart started with the Espoires [reserves] before an injury crisis saw him pitched in as scrum-half in pre-season.

Hart grasped his opportunity and turned heads with Grenoble as he inspired them to wins over Toulouse, Clermont and more. His name was mentioned as an overseas player Ireland should look at and Joe Schmidt was more than aware of his progress.

That progress stalled somewhat when Grenoble signed Super Rugby scrumhalf Charl McLeod from the Sharks. Despite being signed with the club until June 2017, Hart was allowed to join Racing over the summer when they expressed an interest in acquiring his services.

James Hart 7/8/2015

He kicked five conversions in a pre-season win over Toulouse and  made his first start along Dan Carter, against Ian Madigan’s Bordeaux-Beglés.

Hart has now made six appearances in the Top 14 as he plays steady understudy to France international Maxime Machenaud. He has helped close out a couple of home wins and was deployed on the wing – in place of Joe Rokocoko – for the final 10 minutes of a 29-22 win over Stade Francais.

Machenaud may well get the nod to start against Munster this weekend but, with defence coach Ronan O’Gara already speaking highly of him, Racing will have no issue in turning to the Irish scrumhalf at any stage of the contest.

On the latest episode of the GAA Hour, Wooly chats to new Meath boss Andy McEntee about the flawed Dublin Championship and catches up with new Clare joint manager Donal Moloney. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes.

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