Lucky number seven for Leavy as he faces Wales onslaught
Both Leavy and James Ryan have climbed from St Michael’s stocks to wear green jersey
It’s Thursday before cap number seven and Dan Leavy’s energy gears are still in neutral.
Leavy is 23 now; he made a telling impact against England last March. Held his own in a Champions Cup semi-final. Impressive off the bench in Paris on February 3rd. Dominated over Italian ball the last day.
Still, Wales at home, at this moment in time, with number seven finally plastered to his back, overshadows every rugby moment up to now. Perform in this game, against these men, help to secure an Ireland victory and, well, Seán O’Brien might get a little spooked.
That makes this the biggest test of his fledgling career.
“I’d say it probably is.”
No pressure then?
“No. I’m really looking forward to it. To get a start at home in the biggest game of the year is brilliant. Can’t wait.”
Not arrogant. Just matter of fact. If he survives the body count (see O’Brien and Josh van der Flier), Twickenham on March 17th and the World Cup in Japan next year will offer new peaks to scale.
But this hurdle needs clearing if Leavy is to begin the rise many have expected of him since first sightings playing for St Michael’s 10 years ago. He has never disappointed but Josh Navidi must be dominated and Justin Tipuric, on his inevitable arrival, cannot be granted any access to the Irish ball. And he needs to spoil the Welsh need for quick possession.
Wales against Ireland offers a different dimension. Dan Biggar won’t kick the ball out of play. They will keep hammering away, sucking oxygen from the openside’s lungs.
“We are conditioned for it. It’s just about keeping my concentration. It’s the same game. I wouldn’t say it’s a way bigger stage. They’re all must-win games. France away from home was pretty tough so I’d say it’s quite similar. I certainly won’t be approaching the game with a different mindset.”
Leavy speaks about having a nervous disposition except when he is playing rugby.
“I don’t know [why that is]. Despite not playing many games I’ve been [in the Ireland camp] for about 18 months so I’m well used to the high-pressure environment. The way we train is very intense, with Joe and the coaches putting so much pressure on us, so the games are pretty seamless.
“I’ve been playing the game for years now.”
All the grassroots folk in Leinster have been waiting for these days since a 15-year-old blindside held his own in the 2010 Senior Schools Final against an outstanding Clongowes Wood pack, which included Tadhg Beirne and Ed Byrne. The Byrne twins were unable to stop the 17-year-old version becoming the supreme teenage rugby player in the country.
Easily the best flanker produced by the Leinster system since Shane Jennings, he’s probably the main reason Jennings realised it was time to retire on seeing the “genetic freaks coming out of the Academy”.
Last March he was given the number 20 jersey just seconds before kick-off against England after Jamie Heaslip pulled up and Peter O’Mahony moved into the backrow.
“Yeah, yeah, we were walking in. Usually when you’re the 24th man you’re watching if a player has been carrying a knock or something. And I was kind of walking in, expecting Joe to tell me, ‘Aw, you might get an opportunity next year.’ I was going to have a shower and have a protein shake so it was a pretty big flip. Two minutes later I’m walking out in the tunnel for the biggest game of the season, fireworks going off and standing beside Vunipola.”
James refers to himself as The Big Cheese. He’s just weird, like
Leavy entered the tensest fray imaginable on 66 minutes with a cameo that allayed concerns about an injury-interrupted career up to now.
James Ryan has made the very similar climb from St Michael’s stocks.
“I’ve always been aware of him. We never played together. When I was in sixth year he was in third year. I always kind of knew he was a bit of a freak. He has really shone through. He has had a few injuries, same as myself, which kind of stalled him a little bit, but he is a great player. Weird lad but a great player.”
“He refers to himself as The Big Cheese. He’s just weird, like.”
This is only the start for Leavy and Ryan in the green jersey. There will be bigger and better challenges further own the road but Alun Wyn Jones, Navidi and Tipuric are coming for them.
“I’m hoping to be able to push on now. I’ve had a few starts and I really want to become one of the first names on the team sheet, so hopefully soon.”