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Dublin: 0 °C Sunday 24 February, 2019

'Winning is everything - now it’s time to step up, and take our prize'

Hungry, confident and in form, Leinster can dare to dream as they head into the business end of the season.

NOT FOR THE first time this season, the toll of a ferocious and punishing battle was visible in the form of a nasty golf ball-shaped lump above Dan Leavy’s right eye, the by-product of yet another virtuoso performance.

“If I don’t have a black eye or something, I probably haven’t had a good game,” he jokes, deep in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium, a stage the flanker has made his own — both in green and blue — in recent weeks.

Dan Leavy after the game Battered and bruised: Dan Leavy after Sunday's game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leavy shows no sign of slowing down after his immense performances during the Six Nations, the 23-year-old producing another colossal shift against Saracens, embellished with a try which set Leinster on their way to an impressive quarter-final win.

Statistics don’t often tell the whole story, but in this case Leavy’s numbers pretty much encapsulate the level of his performance; 16 carries, 82 metres, three line breaks, four defenders beaten, two offloads, two passes and 14 tackles.

Never has the man of the match award been as clear cut, and that’s saying a lot given the number of outstanding performances from those in blue.

“Yeah I am happy, there are always little things you can kind of brush up on,” he offers when asked if he his happy with his own game at the minute, before shifting the focus back onto the next challenge.

Firstly, the former St Michael’s man had an important trip to Mullingar to make after Sunday’s 30-19 win over Saracens, with Leavy’s grandmother celebrating her 96th birthday on Easter Sunday.

The openside flanker made it his business to dedicate his man-of-the-match performance to her, having been given a pass to miss the celebrations to help Leo Cullen’s side into the Champions Cup semi-finals.

“She couldn’t make it today, but she was watching it at home,” he said. “She’s a Dan fan. To be honest, I don’t think anyone in my family, even my parents, know the rules yet. They’re Dan fans anyway. So she’s at home. I’d like to say happy birthday to her. She’d love to see her name in the papers.

“It’s her birthday today, but obviously I couldn’t get to see her, but I’ll be over to her in the next few days. She came to my first cap, the Canada game last year, which was brilliant.”

Double reason for the Leavys to celebrate over the Easter weekend, then, but the Ireland international — driven, unflustered and focused — knows it’s time for Leinster to ‘step up’ and conquer Europe again, six years after they last reigned supreme.

Leinster v Saracens - European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final Leavy celebrates Sunday's win. Source: Sportsfile via Getty Images

“We’re just coming together. We’re in a good spot. We haven’t won anything yet. I think that’s one thing we need to learn from last year. You can play the best rugby, you can play incredible rugby all year but when it actually comes down to it, it’s days like today when you have to put in performances  — do or die — and we performed again today.

“There’s a lot we can learn from today, and things we can brush up on, but we took another big step forward to where we want to be today, so that was brilliant.

“Winning is everything. Last year we played some incredible rugby with a lot of young players coming through. Now it’s time to step up, and take our prize.”

Scarlets await in the last four, the hurt of last year’s defeat to Clermont at the same stage driving Leinster on to go one better this term.

Already a Grand Slam winner, to win a Champions Cup with his home province would be another thing entirely for Leavy and this new wave of players.

“We’re back home now with our clubs,” he adds. “Leinster is like a family. Obviously it’s a huge honour and it’s brilliant, and it’s such an honour to play for your country, but Leinster is your home for 90% of the year.

“You’re with your best mates, so it’s special and something we’ve touched on. So like I said, it’s all well and good winning a lot in the league and stuff, but it’s do or die when it comes to the end of the season, and it’s time to step up.”

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Ryan Bailey

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