Tommy Dickson/INPHO Leavy broke through for Leinster's second try yesterday.
big moment

Strike move for Leavy try a snippet of what defines Leinster at their very best

The two Michael’s boys linked beautifully to cut Saracens apart.

IF GARRY RINGROSE’S try was a glorious example of Leinster’s counter-attacking ability, their second, through the superlative Dan Leavy, was a snippet of what defines this team when they’re operating at full tilt.

The reaction as Leavy, deservedly named man of the match for his off-the-charts shift against Saracens, cartwheeled over the line spoke volumes, the players and supporters fully aware of how big a moment it was.

Johnny Sexton’s conversion from under the posts stretched the home side’s lead to 11 points, and when James Lowe was shunted over the line shortly after, Leinster had transformed a finely-poised game into a quarter-final with a clear-cut outcome in the space of 15 clinical minutes.

Leo Cullen spoke of winning the big moments in his post-match press conference, specifically highlighting the line out steal on the stroke of half-time and then the strike move on 47 minutes, as this new wave in blue, led by young tyros Leavy and James Ryan, piled on 17 unanswered points against the defending champions.

With Saracens aggressively targeting Sexton throughout the first half, Leinster were quick to identify the areas where they could expose the holders, most notably around the rucks while the visitors were also vulnerable out wide, as evidenced for Ringrose’s score.

Cullen admitted the English side’s tactics actually played into Leinster’s hands and certainly the hosts took full advantage with a performance of sheer physicality, intelligence and ruthlessness in front of a blue-clad, and boisterous, Aviva.

The roof came off when Leavy, fed by his pal Ryan, galloped through the Saracens defence and darted towards the line uncontested. Beautifully-worked, the hands of a pianist from the mighty Ryan and bang, try-time.

“It was kind of spur of the moment, I just popped it up to Cheese [Ryan] and called for it back and the defender committed to Cheese so it was a free run in,” Leavy said.

Dan Leavy scores a try Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“And then I did a somersault and nearly knocked Rory O’Loughlin out with my foot. I need to work on that.”

After Sean Cronin had carried hard initially, making yards for his side, Leavy slotted in at scrum-half, popped the ball to Ryan at first receiver and after the second row had taken the ball to contact, drawing in the Saracens defender, completed a delicious one-two.

“Dan is very good in and around the ruck,” Cullen said. “He is clever at spotting those windows that are there. Saracens had presented that picture a few times this season. I thought the lads went after that space well but I think it was off the back of some strong carries.

“That’s the big thing, Saracens have a very strong wall of defenders and you have to break that wall somehow. The build-up to that allows us to be in a dominant position. Between Dan and James they are good enough to exploit it.”

A seismic moment, in a season-defining game, Leinster — just like Ireland — delivered when it mattered, taking a firm grip on proceedings to advance through to a semi-final date with the Scarlets.

Leavy was at the heart of it all, his level of performance increasing with each passing week, his overall impact with and without ball colossal.

“I remember seeing Dan play his schools final [in 2012] against Clongowes and the amount of turnovers he had at the breakdown against the [Ed and Bryan] Byrne brothers,” Cullen added.

“It was like the Byrnes were carrying and Dan was tearing the ball from them the whole time. He is someone who has had an awful lot of rugby when he was younger so we are trying to manage it a little bit. He came into the academy with a little bit of niggly injuries but he has worked hard to fight his way though.

Dan Leavy celebrates his try with Fergus McFadden Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“Good players thrive on competition. If it is handed to them on a plate I don’t think it is necessarily better for their longer-term development so he has had to push through hard, but you are seeing the quality performances he is putting in at the moment.”

To think Leinster have Rhys Ruddock, who came on in the final stages yesterday after five months on the sideline, and Sean O’Brien — ‘not a million miles away,’ Cullen says — to come back into contention for the semi-final later this month, they possess serious armoury in their arsenal.

There is, however, concern over the ankle injury Luke McGrath picked up in the second half and the province will issue an update tomorrow as their attention turns to Saturday’s Pro14 clash with Zebre at the RDS.

A different challenge, another opportunity for Cullen’s young charges to get minutes under their belt and stake their claim, with the likes of Joey Carbery, James Tracy and Max Deegan all likely to feature against the Italians.

Leavy and co will be given the weekend off — wrapped up in cotton wool with one eye on Scarlets — but such is the strength of this Leinster team, don’t expect any let up this weekend.

They’re on a roll, playing the Leinster way, a joy to behold.

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