Leinster hooker James Tracy. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

'The big games we've lost in the past, it never really leaves you'

Leinster hooker James Tracy reflects on the province’s Champions Cup loss to La Rochelle.

JAMES TRACY KNOWS this feeling all too well. A crushing defeat in Europe takes quite a while to shake.

This time, Leinster have started the process of picking up the pieces from the confines of a hotel as they complete their mandatory quarantine since returning from France. Stuart Lancaster spoke to the squad on Tuesday about how difficult it is to win in Europe. The coaches reinforced their belief that the province have the resources to come back stronger and compete next season.

Some of them have an opportunity to get straight back to work tonight when they travel to play Connacht on the much less glamorous stage that is the Rainbow Cup [KO 7.35pm, TG4 and Eir Sport 1]. 

“A few times it’s been the last game of the year (losing in Europe). If you lose a final, and it’s the last game of the year, it ruins your next three weeks anyway, because you’re sitting there thinking about the ifs and buts and everything like that,” says Tracy, who will start at hooker at the Sportsground.

“I suppose the best thing about having a game this week, is you actually get to go out there again and try fix the things. And yes, this Champions Cup season is over, but at least we have something else that we can play for and something we can build towards being better for next season.

“But to be honest, the big games we’ve lost in the past, it never really leaves you. The disappointment never really leaves you. 

But that’s sport, and if you are competitive you try use that to fuel the fire inside you, and what you learn from those big days where you lose, (use it) and try get back to winning ways because it is so hard to win. Unfortunately, our benchmark is winning and only one team gets to have that season.

“So everything else is not good enough. That’s what we’re going to have to try build towards.”

The La Rochelle defeat threw up familiar issues. Leinster didn’t win enough of the big collisions and after a strong start, ended up being physically bettered by their hosts, who managed to slow down the ball and play the game on their terms. It’s a strange feeling for a Leinster squad who spend most of their year bulldozing their way through the Pro14.

“One of our strengths is that we don’t necessarily play the same way every week,” Tracy continues.

“We’ll alternate it depending on who we’re playing against, we do have a game-plan for playing against bigger, heavier, stronger teams. Every type of team dynamic has strengths and weaknesses, we do have a good plan for them but we just didn’t execute.

“That’s as simple as it is. Not that we played terribly – we didn’t, we played quite well in a lot of parts. It’s those small margins and big moments, if you lose more of those than you win in big games it’s tough to stay in them.

“We probably didn’t exploit their weaknesses as much as we would have wanted to, and unfortunately sometimes you just don’t get it right. 

josh-van-der-flier-scott-fardy-and-james-tracy-dejected-after-there-game Tracy leaves the pitch following Sunday's defeat to La Rochelle. Dave Winter / INPHO Dave Winter / INPHO / INPHO

“You could stare at a million things and try figure out everything that is wrong, but sometimes there’s not as many things wrong as you think.”

A heavily changed Leinster squad will take to the field against Connacht, but the province will now commit themselves to trying to win this makeshift tournament.

It’s not the most attractive prize on offer, but Leinster are not the type of team to turn down the chance to win a trophy.

We’re incredible hungry. As you know, we’ve got quite a big squad of players and guys who are dying to get an opportunity and put the best foot forward. I was part of the loss to Connacht in the RDS this season and you know it hurts, it definitely hurts to lose at home. It has us fired up now that we’ve lost a few games out of that, we want to turn that around and get back to winning ways.”

Tracy hopes it will be one the last games he plays in front on an empty stadium. The sight of a joyous La Rochelle crowd outside the Stade Marcel-Deflandre reminded the Leinster hooker of the importance a club’s supporters bring to the big occasions.

“Sport in general is so much better with fans. You see the protests with Man United (last weekend), it makes you think, money does drive a lot of things but when you bring it all back, sport is the supporters and the team and the mesh of feeling part of it and the community and everything like that.

“I speak for everyone when I say I cannot wait for that to come back and the build-up and the atmosphere and having your family there and all those great things, for some sort of normality to be back.” 

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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