Thursday 29 September 2016

Victor Costello: Tracy's skill and determination could see him fast-tracked into Ireland set-up

Victor Costello

Published 04/03/2016 | 02:30

Hooker James Tracy was behind Leinster’s strong lineout performance last weekend Photo: Sportsfile
Hooker James Tracy was behind Leinster’s strong lineout performance last weekend Photo: Sportsfile

The struggle to get the fourth try in the 78th minute against Zebre last weekend was a sign of both the mental strain and mental strength of the Leinster team.

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These last few weeks have allowed Leinster rebuild and prepare for a grand finale to this season. Gaining bonus-point victories where possible is crucial to that plan.

Leinster's top-four position in the Pro12 is a welcome reprieve in what has been a disappointing season at national and provincial level.

Getting maximum points against Zebre was an integral part of the recovery plan but this was as dreary as it gets for many reasons.

Northern Italy is a picturesque place but less so when there's a mix of grey skies, snow, drizzle and a little wind, making the pitch was soggy and heavy underfoot.

This trip to Italy was never going to match the rampage against Zebre in the RDS three weeks ago, but it was all about getting the attitude right by respecting the opposition and the conditions but staying focused on the endgame.

Leinster got out of the traps quickly before the elements brought their momentum to a halt.

The fourth try came in the end, ensuring Leo Cullen's men could get their points and get out unscathed.

Zebre battled well in parts and are learning that performances at home can build belief for tougher tasks on the road.

Not that he would want plaudits, but Ian McKinley's amazing recovery from the eye-injury that left him partially sighted would have touched a number of the Leinster contingent who grew up with him.

The Zebre out-half's delivered an exemplary performance and hopefully he'll be back on Irish shores soon.

The usual suspects didn't disappoint, with Luke McGrath, Dominic Ryan, Dan Leavy, Ross Molony and particularly James Tracy standing out.

Jordi Murphy showed his professionalism by equipping himself well away from the bright lights of Paris two weeks ago, and his back-row partner Ryan did the same with added leadership qualities that prove Leinster have the resources in brain and brawn to perform over the coming seasons.

With the lack of lineout options at international level, Tracy's skill and focus could see him fast-tracked up through the ranks.

The hooker's lineout functioned so well last weekend, Leinster were able to launch Murphy and Ben Te'o at pace at the Italians. Tracy's all round game isn't bad either, so watch this space.

Cullen's second-place side still face some tough games ahead, including Connacht away and Munster at home.

The interpro games have a habit of looking after themselves in terms of preparation and motivation and Leinster have the bragging rights in these games against all provinces this season, which will give them plenty of confidence.

The potential pitfalls, however, could come against Glasgow and Ulster away.

After the five-point haul in Zebre last weekend, Leinster have an ideal opportunity to build momentum against the Ospreys in the RDS.

Attitude

The Welsh outfit will arrive with a must-win attitude after their defeat to Connacht but Leinster cannot afford to undo the hard work of the last few weeks and, as always, home-game wins are a must .

The six-day turnaround won't help the recovery of some players but those who are fit will spend less time on the pitch and more time in front of the blackboard planning for the Ospreys.

Leinster have failed to reached the heights of previous seasons so far this campaign, but are now very much back in the mix.

Going all the way would set a foundation to attack Europe again next season. And, as before, success in Europe is built on the consistency from the squad in the day-to-day business of the Pro12.

Irish Independent

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