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Dublin: 22 °C Thursday 16 July, 2020

Downey ready to make a statement at 12 against Leinster

The centre says he and his Munster teammates are set to “unleash” this weekend at Thomond Park.

The 32-year-old goes up against his home province on Saturday.
The 32-year-old goes up against his home province on Saturday.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

MUNSTER’S JAMES DOWNEY says that Rob Penney’s penchant for rotation adds an extra layer of motivation for Munster ahead of the visit of Leinster to Thomond Park on Saturday.

The centre missed the two opening games of the season with a quad tear, before a substitute appearance against Zebre and his first start of the campaign in the 29-19 loss to Treviso. However, Penney’s policy of rotating his players meant Downey wasn’t involved in last weekend’s win over the Dragons at Musgrave Park.

Instead, it was Ivan Dineen who enjoyed his third start of the season in the 12 shirt and the Cork man has been impressive so far. The 26-year-old would have hoped his form had been enough to stay in the team for the Leinster derby, but Downey feels that it’s his turn to lay down a marker.

“I think Ivan’s played very well. He’s held his hand up and I’m sure he’s very disappointed not to be involved this week as he’s played extremely well. I do feel for him but, look, I want to play as well and it’s my chance now. Hopefully I can keep my hand up and keep my hands on the jersey.”

Dineen and the rest of the squad’s less established members would certainly feel some displeasure at the fact that a strong performance doesn’t necessarily mean a start in the next game. However, 32-year-old Downey says it’s not only the younger players who will experience that reaction during the season.

I like to play as much as I can. I guess you play the sport to play matches. No one wants to just train all the time, you just want to be out there as much as you can really. It can be frustrating when you’re not playing of course.”

On the flip side of that, Downey is aware of the positives of rotating the team each week. The former Northampton Saints centre admits that not feeling ownership of the jersey pushes everyone to greater heights.

“”It has pros and cons I guess, but I think it’s good for competition. I think everyone’s getting a shot, everyone’s feeling the pressure. You can’t rest on your laurels. I think that you just have to keep producing.

“When you get your chance, you’ve just got to take it. You can’t expect things to happen, you really have to make it happen. Everyone wants competition, it’s good for the team, it’s good for the squad and it can only be good for the future.”

Downey’s second chance to show what he offers Munster from the off is likely to come on Saturday against reigning Pro12 champions Leinster, the province where he was born. That fact plays little on the 6ft 4ins midfielder’s mind though, despite his familiarity with some of the opposition players.

I’d know a few of them. I’ve come up against them a few times and I suppose the novelty is wearing off a little bit. I think you know you’re coming up against Leinster again and at this stage, it doesn’t really bother me. When I was younger, it might have. It adds that extra little bit, maybe for other people more than myself.”

Downey’s 105kg frame will add another element to a Munster attack that has impressed in fits and starts up to this point. Now fully recovered from that quad injury, he feels this is a perfect opportunity to show supporters, teammates and coaches that he is a key man for the province. Downey and Munster are ready.

“Everyone’s looking forward to it. Obviously, it’s a big derby and the first league game in Thomond this season. We want to set down a precedent for the next couple of weeks and lads want to hold their hands up. Everyone’s chomping at the bit. I think everyone is ready to unleash this weekend.”

The full extended interview with James Downey will air on RedFM’s Big Red Bench at 6 on Saturday.

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Penney ready for ‘titanic battle’ when Leinster come to Thomond

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Murray Kinsella

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