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Dan Leavy: 'It was a baptism of fire… but it was perfect'

Having tasted victory in Aviva Stadium with Ireland on bizarre Six Nations bow, back-row now wants same with Leinster

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Dan Leavy receives the ball before dotting down at the RDS against Cardiff. SPORTSFILE

Dan Leavy receives the ball before dotting down at the RDS against Cardiff. SPORTSFILE

Dan Leavy receives the ball before dotting down at the RDS against Cardiff. SPORTSFILE

Dan Leavy laughs as he thinks back to his first Six Nations experience as an Irish international. "In an ideal world…" he chuckles, "I would have had longer to take it all in! Even to have more family and friends at the game which makes the occasion all the more special but look, it is what it is."

Dad Dónal was at the game as was brother Adam but unfortunately the Leavy ladies couldn't make it. Difficult to sort tickets with five minutes notice.

"To be 24th man is of course nice and it shows progress, that I was getting closer to full selection, but it's not much for the wider family to be looking at so no, my mum and sister Rachel weren't there," Leavy explains.

Trouble

"But how do you plan for this and how it played out? If you are 24th man and covering for a fella who is carrying a knock you might know the day before or the morning of a game and there is time to get the head right but here, there were no signs of trouble and then I had to react in minutes."

So how did it all play out?

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Dan Leavy going over for Leinster’s first try. SPORTSFILE

Dan Leavy going over for Leinster’s first try. SPORTSFILE

Dan Leavy going over for Leinster’s first try. SPORTSFILE

"I was jogging in having done the warm-up and Joe (Schmidt) just tapped me on the shoulder and I just thought he was going to maybe say 'well done on my first involvement in Six Nations camp' or whatever but instead he just said we need you to put on the No 20 jersey, Jamie (Heaslip) is out so you will be covering the back-row. And that was it."

That was it! Your first taste of Six Nations rugby just like that. Difficult though to go from a mindset of your match-day involvement being done to, potentially, being called into action at any time in those early minutes?

"Yeah it is difficult," he says. "I wouldn't say I panicked, that's not the right word, there was no panic but I was definitely shook.

"I was heading in to get showered and changed and get ready to cheer on the lads so I was nearly on a wind-down as I was jogging in and then suddenly I'm lining up in the tunnel alongside Billy Vunipola waiting to run out at the Aviva for Ireland in the Six Nations.

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This field is required

"The fireworks, the anthems, the crowd, it was crazy stuff but actually that gave me the chance to focus. If that was a PRO12 or Champions Cup game you don't have that build-up so it would be even more of a shock. But here I was able to gather my thoughts and get my head in the game.

"If Joe had needed me in the first minute to come off the bench I'd have been good to go."

As it was he had to wait until the 66th minute when Seán O'Brien came off and it was the moment his Dad and brother had been waiting for. Indeed it was the moment the wider Leavy family had been waiting for.

"After the game my dad and brother and a good mate of mine were walking away and were just chatting to some lads and one of them happened to say that it was an especially proud day for them as a cousin had made his Six Nations debut.

"So they got talking and your man said, 'yeah Dan Leavy is a second cousin of ours' and my Dad said 'big day for you? Sure he's my son!'. It turns out that they were Carrolls and my mum's maiden name is Carroll. So it was legit! Very funny. Small world!"

Leavy is not the only Leinster player to have made an impact having been 24th man. In January 2015, Shane Jennings felt his hamstring in the warm-up ahead of a sold out Ulster fixture in the RDS.

Matt O'Connor called on his 24th man, Josh van der Flier, to wear the No 20 jersey and after 28 minutes when captain Heaslip went off with a shoulder injury, the youngster went on for his first RDS appearance in Leinster blue.

He left the field to much acclaim. Much like Leavy who grabbed similar headlines for the way in which he was able to fit in seamlessly to the Irish system.

"It's not like I was parachuted straight in from nowhere," he says. "I had been in the squad throughout the Six Nations so that's six or seven weeks of training and look, we're professionals, you have a duty to know your role inside out regardless of the number on your back.

"So it was a baptism of fire but would I have it any other way? We got a great squad performance and managed to finish the Six Nations on a high in front of a packed Aviva? It was perfect."

Another packed Aviva awaits the 22-year-old tomorrow as close to 50,000 tickets have been sold. Having been involved off the bench four times in the Champions Cup this season, he can't wait to experience a European match-day at Lansdowne Road.

"I wasn't involved in the Northampton game in the Aviva so this will be my first time running out in front of a full Aviva for a Champions Cup game and full of blue flags and Leinster supporters," he says. "It's special."

But beating Wasps won't be easy. Coming at him will be serious artillery and a few familiar faces.

"Jimmy (Gopperth) and Marty (Moore) will know a few things about us, Brendan Macken the same but we've changed since they were here and both squads have changed since last year as well," says Leavy.

"So I don't know if they'll necessarily be able to give much away about how we'll go about our business.

Punish

"But what has remained the same is how good Wasps are. They've already qualified for the semis in the Premiership, they're top try scorers and have players that can really punish you.

"They've got English internationals that are two-time Six Nations champions like (James) Haskell, (Nathan) Hughes, (Joe) Launchbury and (Elliot) Daly.

"But we've gone well too don't forget in both the Guinness PRO12 and in Europe so we have to believe in ourselves and in a performance."

Something has to give?

"With the attacking threat of both, it could be a shoot out!" says Leavy.

"A dry ball would suit both teams but I know that we are in a good place and with a packed Aviva we are keen to give something back to those supporters.

"There were some dark days last season in Europe and we want to make sure that we give them some special days and special occasions. Hopefully that can start again this week."


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