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'It's a struggle, everyone is fighting for the same jersey': Leavy on Leinster and Ireland back-row battles

A stint as the 24th man against France has merely whetted his appetite to kick on again.

Dan Leavy scores a try for Leinster against Edinburgh in the Guinness Pro12 two weeks ago.
Dan Leavy scores a try for Leinster against Edinburgh in the Guinness Pro12 two weeks ago.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE RAVE REVIEWS may be racking up almost as quickly as the turnovers but Dan Leavy knows he can’t afford to rest on his laurels.

One slip-up or minor injury setback could see him slide sharply down the back row pecking order at Leinster and Ireland.

You don’t need to have honours Leaving Cert maths in the locker to know Leinster will struggle to keep all of their back rows happy. Eight into three just doesn’t go.

Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan and Dominic Ryan are fellow Ireland internationals of Leavy’s battling for spots at the rear of the scrum.

All eight are unlikely to be fit simultaneously but it still makes playing time a precious commodity in the Blues’ back row.

The Irish player management scheme guarantees rotation but with six of the above group being 26 years old or younger, something will have to give if they are all to chase regular, first-team rugby.

As a result, when given his opportunity, Leavy can afford to only operate at one tempo: full throttle.

Anything more cautious and he could find the peloton drifting out of sight.

“When I’m on the pitch, I go hard,” Leavy says when asked if he is ever tempted to mind himself on the field.

“It is not even a temptation. You have to look after your recovery, you know, massage, ice baths, stretching, foam-rolling, everything.

You have to do that because, if you slip up one week, get a small injury, it keeps you out for four weeks, your opportunity is lost.

Leo Cullen will have tough selections to make towards the end of this month when he picks his starting back row, and one replacement, for Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Wasps.

With Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien seemingly certain starters if fit, that doesn’t leave an awful lot of room for the rest of the ravenous bunch to get their hands dirty.

Murphy remains sidelined with an ACL injury suffered against New Zealand last November and Ryan is nursing a knee issue of his own, but the rest of the back row cohort will be, as it stands, fit for the Aviva Stadium clash.

It has been suggested in some quarters that one or two of Leinster’s back rowers will have to seek a move to another province if they are to keep themselves in the Ireland frame. But Leavy has no intention of going anywhere, if he can help it.

“I was born and raised in Dublin. This is my home,”  Leavy says.

“To look somewhere else — I wouldn’t say it would be impossible — but I would prefer to stay here.

“It is the same with a lot of the other back rows. It is a struggle, everyone is fighting for the same jersey.

“If you keep playing well you can hold on to the jersey as long as you can.

“It would be more of an inclination to stay and kick on at Leinster.”

DAN19756 Josh van der Flier (left), Isa Nacewa and Dan Leavy were in the RDS to reveal details of the #FuelThe4th fan experience. Life Style Sports is encouraging Leinster Rugby fans to ignite the club’s bid for European glory by asking them to post messages of support to their favourite player using #FuelThe4th. The winner with the most inspirational social post will watch Leinster take on Wasps in their own bespoke premium level box.

Sitting still merely opens the door for someone else. And sometimes you can do nothing but watch as they enhance their reputation in your absence and become flavour of the week.

Two weeks ago, Leavy starred against Edinburgh — claiming four turnovers, making seven tackles and scoring a try — following his introduction as a replacement for the luckless Ryan.

That performance, and an injury to Van der Flier, saw him called up to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad for the France clash last weekend.

While Leavy was Ireland’s designated 24th man for the Test, Conan was earning plaudits for a stirring performance against the Dragons.

Leavy admits the experience in the Ireland set-up was valuable, even if it was tough being there with his hands tied.

“It was a bit of a learning experience, it was good to be in the environment and be so close to the match squad for a pretty massive game for the Irish team,”  adds Leavy, who is hoping Ireland’s summer tour to the US and Japan, with a number of key figures likely to be on Lions duty, will offer him a chance to add to his solitary international cap.

“Obviously it comes with a bit of frustration being that close and not actually pulling on a match jersey, but it’s another step in the right direction.

“I’ve trained with the team every day. I know what the intensity is like. I’d slot in pretty seamlessly with them. It’s one thing saying it and another thing doing it.

“Even in the warm-up against France I was ready to play a match and I felt really comfortable, just dying to play.

When I got into the changing room, it was like ‘you can have a shower now’. [It was] frustrating, yeah.

“I was on scrum cam as well so I didn’t even get to watch the game … as I said there are positives and negatives. To be another step closer, to be viewed as a realistic option is positive.”

The fact Leavy was fulfilling such a role in a massive Test match is a sign of how far he has come, and how highly he is rated by his coaches at provincial and international level. And that’s enough to keep him ticking over, for now.

“I had a few pretty frustrating years watching other lads kick on and I was left behind, but I am getting a lot more game-time this year with Leo and the more time you’re on the pitch, keeping fit, the more of an opportunity and window you have to showcase your talent.”

A few words of encouragement from Schmidt have also been particularly reassuring.

“He said I’ve been playing very well, we had a chat and he said some things could be a little bit better and stuff like that but, you know, in general he seems quite pleased.

“We just had a chat and said, ‘hey, it’d probably be good for you to get a bit of game-time’ and I agreed, said ‘perfect’ and hopped back to Leinster for the rest of the week.

“Hopefully when the squad’s announced for the next few games I’ll be in again.”

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Alan Waldron

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