Thursday 19 September 2019

Leavy makes quite an impact to prime himself for starting role against All Blacks

Leavy witnessed history in Soldier Field from afar two years ago, before watching from the bleachers as the All Blacks gained revenge in Dublin in an often grisly encounter. Photo: Sportsfile
Leavy witnessed history in Soldier Field from afar two years ago, before watching from the bleachers as the All Blacks gained revenge in Dublin in an often grisly encounter. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Two weeks ago Joe Schmidt rang his Grand Slam winning openside flanker to deliver a sentence that contained both bad news and good news: "I'm not taking you to Chicago, but you have a shot at Argentina and then...."

Dan Leavy didn't need to hear the rest. All he wanted was a chance.

So he went to South Africa with a Leinster side for a game that may not have meant a whole lot to a whole lot of people, but one that meant the world to him.

In fact, it meant more than the world; it meant the All Blacks.

Two years ago in Chicago, when Ireland finally managed to do what they should have done many times before - beat New Zealand - Leavy was also playing out of his skin in Leinster colours, not that anybody noticed.

Since then, however, his eminence has grown so substantially that when the coach says he has a shot, he believes it. Hell, he can visit Chicago another time.

For now he aims to be centre stage as Schmidt's side attempt to repeat their Soldier Field coup against the world champions.

Opportunity didn't just knock on his door this weekend; it pretty well took the hinges off.

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Not that he would have noticed.

While many of the Irish players watched the Twickenham thriller on Saturday or, at a push, the less stressful try-fest in Murrayfield, Leavy's pre-match prep was rather less sociable.

"I was in my room kinda messing around and then I was stretching and doing some core activation, things like that," he says laconically.

Each to their own and all that, yet nobody can gainsay his methods. As a result of Sean O'Brien's latest catastrophic mishap, Leavy is now the outstanding candidate to slot in at seven following his remarkable impact from the bench.

It was that kind of day, when the value of those players that didn't start was heightened by their absence.

From Rob Kearney at the back, through to Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw in the centre and Conor Murray at scrum-half, and Devin Toner as the senior lineout organiser, Ireland's scruffy performance in a 10th successive home win reflected yet again that the quantity of Schmidt's depth chart is more easily accounted for than its quality.

This was not a display that would have troubled the All Blacks; then again, this was not a team which would have been capable of doing so.

Aside from the quite puzzling, ongoing mystery about Murray's readiness, it is not a team who will get a second chance.

Leavy, though, will get his. And he can't wait. Ask him has he ever contemplated the prospect of facing the All Blacks and quiet determination amplifies his reply: "I have."

There are others in the mix - Jordi Murphy, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock, Tadhg Beirne - but Leavy is in the box-seat.

"It just shows the quality of back-rowers we have," says the Leinster man, the preferred Schmidt choice during the Grand Slam run.

"Nobody would be shocked by any combination of back-rowers who might play in this game or next week as well.

"We will have a few competitive sessions next week. Lads will want to put their hands up. I really want to play, but it's not my decision.

"It's the top-ranked team versus the second-ranked team so I'd love to play. There's so many lads, so many variations that could come up. Josh has been playing really well, all the boys in Chicago had serious games as well.

"We had a completely different back row today than we did then so there's a lot of names in the hat. Hopefully I get to play, but we'll wait and see."

Leavy witnessed history in Soldier Field from afar two years ago, before watching from the bleachers as the All Blacks gained revenge in Dublin in an often grisly encounter.

"It was vicious," he recalls. "We won in Chicago and they were looking for revenge and we were looking to make it two in a row.

"These games are always going to be seriously high intensity, like it was today.

"They're the type of games you want to play so I've no doubt it's going to be a similar intensity. Hopefully it will be a full house in the Aviva.

"There was a bit of a weird feeling in the changing room afterwards having beaten a top-quality Argentina side. There wasn't much celebration, a bit of relief.

"Guys are already thinking about recovery and getting a headstart on a big week."

Leavy's headstart is quite a significant one.

Aside from a baffling penalty concession, his impact was immediate and impressive, snaffling turnovers, carrying hard in tight or wide channels, and skittling beefy giants who had been winning collisions before his arrival.

"His competitiveness, how combative he is, how keen he is to get involved, I thought he did a really good job," said Schmidt.

"It does add comfort knowing that Dan, on the back of a couple of hit-outs, has slotted straight back in as well as he did. We didn't anticipate it being too different.

"For him to hit the ground running is fantastic for us and it will add confidence to him."

But Leavy will add confidence to Schmidt too, along with Kearney and Toner, as well as a familiar midfield, offering re-assurance where it was sorely lacking.

Competition: Independent.ie has two pairs of tickets to the sold out Ireland vs New Zealand game at the Aviva this Saturday. Enter here.

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