'I was thinking, 'have I made a big mistake here?'' - Leinster star on his decision to change positions
It is rare to see a rugby player change positions during their career but that is the dilemma James Tracy faced after a discussion with Joe Schmidt early on in his time at Leinster.
Tracy had entered the Leinster academy as a prop but the then head coach felt that his size was better suited to hooker. The young front row then went on the tough journey of learning a whole new skill-set as a number two, including the difficult art of lineout throwing.
Now the 27-year-old is a seasoned member of the Leinster squad, winning the double with the province last season, but Tracy admits that honing the skills required for throwing was the toughest part of his transition to hooker.
"It took a while before I felt comfortable, definitely," Tracy said on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast.
"Joe said to me if I wanted to consider playing international rugby, I wouldn't make it as a loosehead prop and he was 100% right. I don't have the frame for it. It was just about putting the head down and putting in the hours because I was so many hours behind [other hookers]. I had so much to catch up on. It's something I have to work on all the time but it's definitely something in the last few years that I'm comfortable with. Before that when the ball was kicked out, I'd be like 'oh god'."
Tracy had some lean years at Leinster while learning his trade as a hooker. He played just three minutes in the 2012/13 season, 30 minutes in 2013/14 and didn't feature at all in Matt O'Connor's final campaign as head coach.
Leo Cullen showed faith with Tracy after taking over from the Australian in 2015/16 and he has been a regular contributor ever since. However, he admits that at times early on he regretted taking Joe Schmidt's advice about changing positions.
"That was the period where I'd moved to hooker and was between a rock and a hard place," he said.
"I couldn't leave because nobody was willing to take a risk on someone who was unproven at hooker and I wasn't getting the opportunity to play. I was thinking, 'have I made a big mistake here?' There was nobody to blame, it was just the way it happened. I was lucky now looking back that I did make the move but for those years I'd be lying if I said I didn't think I had made a big mistake.
"If anything, it gave me more time to practice without going out there and blown up."
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