'It's a brilliant time of year for players and supporters'
Dan Leavy is firing on all cylinders again after back-to-back Bath wins – now he has Connacht in his sights, writes Marcus Ó Buachalla
It was a busy down day for the Leinster players this week but it was very worthwhile, and all about giving something back.
Together with Rugby Players' Ireland, the players visited LauraLynn Children's Hospice and Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.
Crumlin, in particular, means a lot to Leinster back-row Dan Leavy having spent time there as a youngster.
"I've asthma so had issues growing up. I suppose you see up close what goes on there and the amazing work that the staff do to support and look after so many young kids and also their families.
"So I've always been very aware of Crumlin and the great work that they do and it was great to get in there and to visit some of the wards and meet so many inspirational young boys and girls."
Together with the work they've been doing for their own charity partner the Down Syndrome Centre, who have a match day take-over in the RDS tomorrow, it has been a productive week for the players.
"It was great to visit both LauraLynn and Crumlin especially coming up to Christmas and with some of them maybe not getting home for Christmas, so hopefully it brightened up their day to see the trophies and get a few pics."
It has also been a productive week on the pitch. As well as preparing for the visit of Connacht to a near sold-out RDS tomorrow, Leavy and others have been in with Ireland for a mini-camp ahead of the Six Nations.
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Leavy reflects on the last few weeks with a mixture of satisfaction and frustration. But he also acknowledges that it has been a job well done.
"I think rustiness is the best way of describing that first performance at the Rec.
"We hadn't played together for more than a month and then you are in and it has to click but often it doesn't.
"I think we saw then the benefit of an extra week of training for the return match at the Aviva.
"We were much more precise with what we did and that first half in particular went well."
The transition from Ireland to Leinster is also a factor and although the 24-year-old has been involved in two Six Nations campaigns now, there are still different calls and moving from one set of systems and plays to deal with.
There has been a lot of talk too though about conditions at the Rec and the Aviva over the last two weeks.
"It was bad in the Rec but it's the same for both teams and you have to adapt. But overall we have to be happy to take nine points from the 10 on offer.
"The focus all along was on keeping the pressure on Toulouse and we did that pretty well I think. It is all boiling down to that game in January in Round 5 back at the RDS."
He also reflects on his own performances and admits to a level of frustration with how the away fixture went from the base of the scrum at No 8.
"It's not often you are waiting for Dev Toner's size-18 feet to shovel the ball back in a scrum and you get two lumps of mud back as well, so that was unique! But look, no excuses I wanted the game to go better for me and it didn't.
"I hadn't played in a while with the injury so again I was just a bit off the pace but I think we were all far happier with the performance last week."
With Europe parked until January, Leavy can refocus on the Guinness PRO14 and the visit of Connacht who are currently performing very well in the PRO14, sitting third in their conference.
One interesting dynamic that has been removed is the family rivalry that had been bubbling away between the Leavy brothers - Dan in Leinster and younger brother Adam in the Connacht Academy.
But Adam has left Connacht and now plies his trade with Lansdowne in the AIL and is part of the Ireland Sevens squad.
He has tasted success too at the sevens game since his first cap in July last year.
In September he was part of the first Ireland men's Sevens team to win a Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series title after dominating the final tournament of the series with six wins out of six, and then most recently in Dubai at the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens.
"He's thrown his lot in with the Sevens and he's really enjoying it. They've a good bunch of lads there, a few of the Leinster Academy lads are there as well.
"I suppose he is still quite loyal to Connacht as you'd expect so this weekend the perfect storm for him is man of the match for me and a Connacht win! But thankfully there is no longer that rivalry at home."
So what does the 11-times Ireland capped back-row think of the men from the west and their new style under new coach Andy Friend?
"They have their confidence back that's for sure. You look at how they are playing in the PRO14 but also in Europe they are a team in form and they are now unbeaten in five games across all competitions.
"That doesn't happen by accident. Their defence is also stronger this year and the collisions will be key on Saturday.
"If you don't get over that gain-line and don't get over it often enough you are going to struggle and that's what happened to us in the Rec against Bath.
"But I think we have looked at that game and have analysed where we need to be better and hopefully we can continue where we left off last week."
And then to Munster and to Ulster.
"It's a brilliant time of the year. For players, for supporters. Big games every week.
"You can see it in the ticket numbers sold over the next four weeks. Sold-out games every week.
"That is just brilliant. Playing in front of packed houses is what you dream of growing up and everyone can't wait to get going."