Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

'You have to be ready to take your opportunity and I have to do that this Saturday'

Dan Leavy is desperate to seize his chance against Italy.
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DAN LEAVY DOESN’T need anyone to tell him that the door is now wide open for him to stake a long-term claim for the number seven jersey, and as he prepares for just his second start for Ireland, the flanker is intent on seizing his opportunity.

Leavy at Carton House earlier.

Source: Dan Sheridan

The 23-year-old made a huge impact when replacing Josh van der Flier off the bench at the Stade de France last weekend and has been named to start in Saturday’s clash with Italy, which will be his first at the Aviva Stadium.

With Sean O’Brien and Tommy O’Donnell also injured, there is now a big opportunity for Leavy to establish himself in Joe Schmidt’s side during this window and he’s relishing the chance to do so against the Azzurri.

“Really looking forward to it, first start at home for Ireland,” he says. “Massively looking forward to it especially after the good win we had against France.”

The former St Michael’s man insists he won’t put himself under any more pressure this weekend but at the same time is fully aware of the significance of this game on a personal level having built up an impressive run of form in a blue jersey over the Christmas and New Year period.

“It has been up and down,” he says of his season so far, with a hamstring injury before the November series coming at the most frustrating time.

“I got injured early on in the season, came back and played a few games and right before the November had a bit of hamstring trouble and missed the whole November series. Got back into the swing of things well and had a few pretty solid performances over the Christmas period and find myself in a pretty good position now.

“It’s just down to hard work, working a lot one-on-one with the coaches and getting feedback and trying to improve.

“I took a lot of confidence from the Exeter game before Christmas, which was my first game back. I had been in training in the environment in Leinster for a few weeks prior to that so it’s just all about being able to perform when you get the opportunity because there are always injuries.

“People come in and out of the team especially the way the game is these days so you have to be ready to take your opportunity and I have to do that this Saturday. This is a really good opportunity for me now and I’ve just got to get on the ball and be as destructive as I can.”

Leavy made a big impact in Paris last week.

Source: Billy Stickland

Leavy’s inclusion at the expense of the unfortunate Van der Flier is one of four changes made by Schmidt for the visit of Conor O’Shea’s side, with Leinster team-mate Jack Conan also coming into the back row alongside Munster’s Peter O’Mahony.

Schmidt referred to the explosive carrying ability of both players in explaining his decision to shuffle the personnel in his engine room, while also singling out Leavy’s impressive line speed and tireless defensive work against France.

“I think I’m in the position I am for a reason so I don’t need to go out and reinvent the wheel and doing drop goals and stuff like that,” Leavy insists. “Just keep doing what I’m doing, work hard and hopefully reap the rewards.

“It’s going to be hugely attritional, Italy are a serious outfit. The scoreline doesn’t really reflect how the game went against England. It’s going to be a tough Test and not one we’re going to overlook and it’s all hands on deck on Saturday.”

It will be just Leavy’s second start for Ireland on what will be the occasion of his sixth cap, and the opportunity to stamp his authority on the game from the off is one he relishes, particularly after getting a taste of Six Nations rugby in rather strange circumstances this time last year.

Named as the 24th man for the final round game against England, Jamie Heaslip’s late withdrawal meant Leavy was promoted to the bench at the last minute before he came on to make a second-half cameo in a big home victory at the Aviva Stadium.

“It was a bit mad,” Leavy recalls. “Usually when you’re 24th, you’re looking at a player who might be carrying a niggle or whatever and trying to keep an eye on him and if he doesn’t pull through you might know, but for me that was really a last ditch thing.

The flanker is ready for his first Six Nations start.

Source: Dan Sheridan

“I was walking in after the warm-up thinking I wasn’t going to be playing and Joe tapped me on the shoulder and asked how I was feeling. I was expecting him to say something like you might get a shot next year or in November will be your opportunity but he kind of just said Jamie has pulled up and get the 20 jersey on.

“A couple of minutes later I was walking out in the tunnel. It was a bit of a shock to the system, I was rattled for a few minutes but once the game got going, I knew my role inside out. I had been in camp for the whole Six Nations and it was the same as every other game — but it was a bit of nuts.”

This weekend will provide an entirely different challenge but one, 15 months after his debut against Canada, Leavy is more than ready for. He knows opportunity knocks.

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