Tuesday 28 February 2017

Leamy fighting fit for back-row battle

RUGBY

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IN the four years since Ireland's last appearance at a World Cup, Denis Leamy's place in the scheme of things has altered.

One of the gilded untouchables in France, it was his try-saving tackle that prevented the nightmare tournament from getting even worse against Georgia as Ireland held out to escape Bordeaux with a 14-10 win.

Back then Leamy was automatic choice at No 8 -- now he is in a hard-fought race to make the plane to New Zealand in the most competitive area in Irish rugby.

Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris all look like automatic choices for the back-row, but none has been to a World Cup and Leamy, now 29 with 50 caps, is hoping his experience and versatility -- he can play No 8 or blind-side flanker -- will get him into the squad.

"I've been involved with Ireland for the best part of seven or eight years," he said. "I suppose the experience factor is there.

"I have experience on the international stage, so, hopefully, I'll make it. I just try to do my best to get myself into shape and, hopefully, everything will follow on from that.

"Now I'm just concentrating on pre-season and being in the best possible nick for when the games come around.

"There is huge competition in the back-row. There has been over the last 10 years -- you take it as a challenge.

"If I can get myself in the best possible shape and the best possible shape mentally as well, then I've got every chance. Why not?"

Leamy played a big role in 2007, but he is keen to put the events of four years ago behind him.

The injuries that almost ended his career are also consigned to history as the Cashel man looks forward to the future.

"A lot of us who were involved in that World Cup try not to remember too much about it," he admitted.

"It's a disappointing moment in our careers that certainly didn't go according to the script.

"I could have missed this World Cup in terms of final retirement. There was definitely a chance -- I had a very bad knee injury, probably a bit worse than I realised at the time.

"It's a big help when you are injury free. It gives you confidence and you don't have the stress and the worry of 'will you be right or not be right' and then, when you get onto the pitch, you are carrying an injury and just one bang on it and you're sore.

Confidence

"Pre-season training is great for clearing up things like that. It gives you confidence and helps you to rebuild."

Leamy reckons Kidney's preparations will leave Ireland in a much better place than they were when the tournament kicked off last time, with the extra ball-work and games designed to get them in shape.

"What he is trying to do this time is play a lot more rugby before we even fly out," he said.

"We were really well conditioned last time out and we were very, very fit. We were all in great shape but we were probably all undercooked in terms of battle hardness.

"This time we're into rugby a lot quicker. That's what it's all about, playing rugby. It's really what happens in the games that matters. It really doesn't matter how low your body fat is, how much you are pushing on a bench.

"It's really all about focusing on the rugby side of things and getting that right."

Irish Independent

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