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Monday 16 January 2017

Wasp Downey has special insight into Ireland's Euro buzz

Published 12/11/2015 | 02:30

An injury in pre-season has stunted James Downey's opportunities so far this season
An injury in pre-season has stunted James Downey's opportunities so far this season

For one day each week, James Downey dons a suit and joins the commute to the City of London. Life after rugby is beckoning, but for now he's happy to have a taste of the rat race without fully submitting to 9-5.

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Next month, he will qualify as a financial advisor and is working towards making the transition into life after rugby as smooth as possible. The thing is, the centre still reckons he has got plenty of living to do on the rugby pitch.

Ideally, he will return to his home city and line out for Wasps at the RDS this Sunday.

An injury in pre-season has stunted his opportunities so far this season but he has banked plenty of European experience over the course of his career and is hoping that will appeal to coach Dai Young.

Wasps are the latest stop-off in Downey's rugby life. This time last year, he was struggling to break into the Glasgow Warriors team, he was demoralised and playing club rugby. Frustrated, he sought a way out of Scotland and has found a new home.

"Most definitely, yeah," the 34-year-old says when asked if the club currently moving from London to Coventry was a better fit. "First of all, I came in and I played and that was something that didn't really occur (in Glasgow).

"It was a big blow, when you're used to playing games week in, week out and then you don't get a look in. I was going off playing club rugby, I played in an amateur game and hadn't played amateur since I played for Clontarf before going pro.

"So I did struggle with that, to be honest. Now, I'm a little bit wiser in terms of I know I can't play every game but it's about longevity really."

Young may turn to suspended out-half Jimmy Gopperth and centre Brendan Macken for an insight into how Leinster play now, but what Downey can provide is an idea of why this week will be different for the Irish province.

"I know what Irish sides are like in Europe," he says. "I was in a side that was thumped by 50 points by Glasgow when I was at Munster and we came out the next week and beat 'Quins away against all odds. Europe's different for Irish teams.

"It's built up to be something ridiculous, the whole week you walk into training and everything's changed, the whole town - especially Limerick - is buzzing. You know what's gone before you, it's the heritage and history that's there. You know what's gone before you and they instil it in you.

"It's mentioned the whole time, not every club does that and a lot of clubs just go out and play as if it's a normal week.

"It's not like that in Ireland, I know Leinster have gone away to a training camp, I know Munster have different training kit; it's just a different mentality.

"It's just a mentality, 'no more messing', there's more fights at training because everyone wants to be in the team."

Wasps won't fear Leinster, particularly because they ran them so close in the pool stages last season. They should have won in Dublin, while they gave the Irish side a fright in the last pool game, which was drawn, that saw Leinster squeeze into the quarter-finals.

This year, they are stronger having added All Blacks Charles Piutau and Frank Halai to their back-three and Wallaby openside George Smith to their back-row.

And Downey reckons they have learned lessons.

"It's a steep learning curve, you can't afford to let one go. Especially with this pool, you can't miss an opportunity so lads are confident of going in this weekend and getting a win," the Dubliner says. "At least teams are capable of beating other teams. You've got to get off to the best possible start, you lose a game and you're in a world of trouble and if you lose two you're gone."

Like Downey, Macken is keen for a crack at his old Leinster mates but there is no guarantee that either will be involved.

Still, the older centre has been impressed by the 23-year-old former Ireland U-20 international who has chosen to spread his wings rather than kick his heels at his home province.

"I get frustrated for players - especially at Leinster - there's a conveyor belt of players coming off the schools who are highly talented and they just peter out.

"There's a huge opportunity, look at Darren O'Shea who came from Munster and is now playing first team for Worcester, if he'd stayed where would he be? Probably not starting and now he's playing Premiership - there's a few boys in France as well so it depends on the players' ambitions."

Getting out of Ireland served Downey well and he's still going strong.

Irish Independent

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