Convert Tracy eyes Ireland call as Leinster ring changes
Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30
A quiet word in the ear from Joe Schmidt can go a long a way, and that was certainly the case for James Tracy.
Tracy was a loosehead prop until Schmidt, then Leinster coach, suggested that if he had international ambitions, he should consider switching to hooker.
Fast-forward four years and Schmidt now holds the top job in the country, while Tracy is well on the way to establishing himself as a hooker.
The 24-year old has been one of the major success stories in an otherwise disappointing season for Leinster but he is under no illusions that he is playing catch up compared to the other hookers within the squad.
Such is Tracy's hunger to make up for lost time, Leinster's scrum coach John Fogarty has had to ensure that he doesn't do too much, too soon.
Looking back on the decision to change positions, Tracy says that it wasn't one that was that difficult given that it was a coach of Schmidt's esteem making the recommendation.
"I was playing loosehead at the time and he was asking me did I have aspirations to play internationally," he says.
"Of course I said I did, and he just felt that my frame wouldn't be big enough to carry the weight I'd have to be to be an international prop and that I should think about moving to hooker if that's what I wanted to do. So I made the decision. That was it then."
It may have seemed like a straightforward decision but having played all of his schools and underage rugby at loosehead, Tracy had a lot to learn.
He has worked tirelessly but has been forced to bide his time behind Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss, although he caught the eye against Bath.
The upcoming Six Nations period represents an ideal time for Tracy to stake his claim with leinster - and he dreams of one day getting the call from Schmidt.
"As a kid you're dreaming of playing for Ireland but it's a long road and I'll never jump the gun on it, I've always taken it step by step," he says.
"Hopefully if I keep working hard and get an opportunity I can take it."
Learning his trade as a loosehead meant that Tracy's love for scrummaging was always there but being the man in the middle of the front-row has forced him to delve deeper into the 'dark arts'.
"As a loosehead you kind of get a bit of a love for the scrum," he says. "It's quite different, as a hooker, it's more similar to a tighthead, the dark arts in there. I do enjoy it.
"It's a massive part of the game; a lot of people overlook it but the scrum is almost irrelevant unless you're being dominated by another team and then it's the most important thing because you can just win penalties and gain advantage and territory and it gives you momentum.
"We talk about it the whole time, the first scrum in the game is going to set the tone for the rest of the game.
"I could definitely step back into it (loosehead) if I wanted to but I'm comfortable now at hooker. I've got used to all the roles and responsibilities so I don't really think about it any more."
With over 30 players missing due to Ireland duty and injury, Leo Cullen has been forced to make 12 changes to the side to play the Dragons in Rodney Parade this evening.
Given the lacklustre display against Wasps last weekend, however, there is an argument to be made that Cullen should have reverted anyway to the likes of Tracy who performed so well in the previous game against Bath.
Luke McGrath, a former captain of the Ireland U-20s, will skipper the side that includes academy winger Adam Byrne for just the second time.
Garry Ringrose starts at outside-centre while up front, Hayden Triggs makes a welcome return to the second-row following a spell out with an ankle injury.
For Tracy, this evening's game represents the latest step in his development and although he knows that he still has a long way to go, he has the utmost confidence in his own ability.
"I would always have tried things in training, they do not always work out, but I always practise my skills as much as I can and hopefully I can pull off a few more if I get the opportunity and when the time is right," he said.
"That was a steep learning curve for me when I was younger. I used to try things that I probably should not have. I dunno, it probably did hamper selection but it is about learning when to try those things and when not to."
Tracy has proven that he has flair but Leinster need the basics to be right this evening and if they are, they will get what promises to be a difficult period off to an ideal start.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS - C Meyer; A Hewitt, A Hughes, A Warren, H Amos; J Tovey, S Pretorius; B Stankovich, TR Thomas (capt), B Harris; R Landman, M Screech; N Crosswell, N Cudd, L Evans. Reps: E Dee, P Price, S Knight, C Hill, J Benjamin, C Davies, GR Jones, N Scott.
LEINSTER - Z Kirchner; A Byrne, G Ringrose, B Te'o, F McFadden; C Marsh, L McGrath (capt); P Dooley, J Tracy, M Bent; R Molony, H Triggs; D Ryan, D Leavy, J Murphy. Reps: R Strauss, J Loughman, O Heffernan, T Beirne, I Boss, I Madigan, N Reid.
REF - M Mitrea (Italy)
Dragons v Leinster, Live, BBC Wales/S4C, 7.05