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'I was probably harsh on myself as I'm always concentrating on what I could have done better'

James Tracy made his international breakthrough last season but for the moment his focus is fully on breaking into the Leinster team.

Tracy at Leinster's UCD base before the squad departed for South Africa.
Tracy at Leinster's UCD base before the squad departed for South Africa.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JAMES TRACY, THE Leinster hooker, admits he ‘could have done a lot better’ at times last season after breaking his way into Joe Schmidt’s international fold, but says he is focused on getting back to that level again this year.

The 26-year-old won his first Ireland cap in the November Test victory over Canada last year and made three more appearances in a green shirt, including a start against Japan in the second Test of the recent summer tour.

“I did okay,” he says, when asked if he was happy with how last year went.

“I really enjoyed every opportunity I got and I’d relish getting them again but I was probably harsh on myself as I’m always concentrating on the things I could have done better in those opportunities.

“To get better you have to be hard on yourself but I definitely could have done a lot better. I wasn’t devastated by anything but there was room for growth. I did appreciate the experience. Being involved and the privileged to play in a green jersey. Hopefully more improvements to come.”

As well as being rewarded at international level last term, Tracy, having graduated from Leinster’s academy in 2014, firmly established himself at the province with 26 appearances, including 12 starts, across both competitions.

Now that Sean Cronin is back and available, Tracy faces more competition for the number two jersey with Richardt Strauss, although injured at present, also providing competition.

And Tracy knows if he can cement his place in Leo Cullen’s starting XV, it will put him in a good position to be involved once Schmidt settles on a squad for the November games against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.

“Trying to stay ahead of the lads here is more of a focus than Ireland, but if you’re playing well that will follow suit,” he added. “You’re under pressure to play well all the time. If you don’t play well here, you fall down the pecking order very quickly.”

Cian Healy and James Tracy Tracy and Leinster team-mate Cian Healy after Ireland's series win in Japan last June. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Tracy is part of the 27-man Leinster squad currently in South Africa preparing for the back-to-back Pro14 games against the Kings and Cheetahs. The Newbridge native is under no illusions of the size of the task ahead, but says the experience will be hugely beneficial to the team, likening it to an international tour.

“They can score tries, we know that,” he says of Saturday’s opposition. “Any South African team are strong in the contact and aggressive so that’s going to be a big challenge for our forwards. They’re going to be coming hard at the breakdown so we have to be right on the money with that. They’re so dangerous and that’s one thing we’re not taking for granted; the ability they have.

“Even before this season, the league has shown that anybody at home is a different animal so we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be tough down here. We’re prepping the same way we would every single week. We’ll be going down to win, like we do every game.

“We don’t really get the opportunity to go on a long enough tour as a group unless you are away with internationals. As a club we haven’t really before so it’s really exciting we can do that together and bond. I think it will make the group stronger as a whole. Going over there experiencing a difficult country in each other’s company for two weeks, every minute and getting to play tough games over there.”

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