Sunday 21 January 2018

Academy back-row Dan Leavy raring to go against Zebre

Dan Leavy is hoping to continue his comeback from injury
Dan Leavy is hoping to continue his comeback from injury
Dan Leavy scores a try in the pre-season game against Northampton

Marcus Ó Buachalla

The days after a loss are never easy. This week is no different and the talk at Leinster Rugby has been about righting some wrongs, getting back in the saddle and being grateful for the opportunity to do it sooner rather than later.

A two-point home loss to the Newport Gwent Dragons may not be the end of the world, but it has focused the minds even more with the season entering a critical phase and some crucial games ahead to get back into the top four.

Experienced players like Shane Jennings have voiced their opinions and have been very clear in what today's game is all about. At the other end of the experience spectrum, Dan Leavy gets it.

"You look up to the likes of Shane and what he has achieved in the game so when he talks you listen and as our captain for this game, you take even more notice," says the Academy back-row.

"We didn't perform last weekend to our normal standards and we have to get back to that against Zebre."

Leavy has been named amongst the replacements and is hoping to add to his debut appearance, against Edinburgh in October.

Opportunities

"We are obviously down a few at the moment due to Irish commitments so there are opportunities as a result for the likes of myself in the Academy to show what we can do," he says.

"It's important for us to be on the ball and to know our roles. You have to be ready to give it a good crack, as good as you've got. We're all really excited by these chances and it's up to us to take those chances."

The chances are coming - only for a pre-season injury against Ulster, they may have come sooner.

"It has been frustrating but what can you do? I think you just have to use those setbacks as motivation," he says.

"You use a knock like that to get stronger, to get better and to work on other parts of your game. I am just delighted that I have now made my debut and I'm looking forward to kicking on now."

It was a debut in the RDS and a winning debut at that. That was a 33-8 bonus point win on a night when Academy prop Peter Dooley also made his first impression in a Leinster jersey.

"I've been in the environment for a few years now so I would like to think that I feel comfortable but still when you get the nod from Matt (O'Connor)and you suddenly know that you're in the match-day squad, the nerves kick in," says Leavy.

"Then once you've accepted that and you start doing your normal prep. But then on match-day, the nod to let you know that you're going on, that's another lift in the excitement levels but you have to control those emotions.

"Afterwards though, you can appreciate it far more and of course it's a special moment. It's one that my family and I will remember fondly."

Is it full of clear moments or all a bit of a blur?

"No - I remember it well. Great atmosphere in the RDS. You can really feel the excitement in the crowd with them being right on top of the pitch on all sides," says Leavy.

"So I understand now why everyone raves about playing there for Leinster. The place really does come alive for those fixtures."

As for the game itself Leavy was content with his performance but not with his lot.

"I got a good ten-minute stretch at the end of the game and I was happy with how it went. You come off wanting more then. You want that next opportunity to come straight away but that's what is great about getting a taste.

"Greedy for more and you just want to work harder to put the hand up on a regular basis for selection."

With a view to Zebre he is keen to taste it all over again but is also mindful of his role within the bigger picture.

"I just have to get myself in the best position mentally and physically to perform for Leinster should Matt and the coaches need me," he says.

"Selfless actions in everything I do for the betterment of the team, basically. "

There is also the small matter of the British & Irish Cup semi-final on March 14 as Leinster 'A' chase a third title in a row.

"Yeah, it's an exciting time for us all. To be one game away from a final is a great opportunity," says Leavy.

"We had a good win last day out against Rotherham but you have to be mindful too that we have come undone a few times this year in particular on the road.

"Carmarthen Quins beat us by two points in a game that we controlled for large parts. So I hope we have learned our lessons from that day.

"Worcester are a different test altogether and have been going well in the Championship in England.

"Girvan (Dempsey) has us in a great place, though, and hopefully if I can stay fit, I'll be in the mix for the semi. But beyond that we aren't even entertaining thoughts of a final or anything else."

Role models

A quick look though over the last two winning B&I Cup captains is illustrative for the 20-year-old. Jordi Murphy was skipper two years ago, Dominic Ryan last year. Both have gone on to become full Irish internationals as well as regular first-team players with Leinster. Two perfect role models.

"Absolutely. You could also look at Jack Conan and his progress over the last while," agrees Leavy. "Another back-rower who was in a similar enough position to me last year. In the Academy, waiting for an opportunity but having to be patient because of a few injuries.

"He has kicked on brilliantly this year. So yeah, anyone of those lads, you look at them and you'd love to follow in their footsteps. But they all worked extremely hard for where they are and it didn't come easy.

"If I look around any day here, I am training with international players, Lions, coaches with brilliant pedigree. I also appreciate that every day and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

"You look at them, you learn from them and you just want to improve day in, day out. From there I'm just happy to take it one game at a time."

Irish Independent

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