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'You try and have the same intensity every week, but there's something special about these games'

The hard-fought win in Cardiff has strengthened Leinster’s confidence, but nothing compares to the prospect of taking on Munster.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

LEINSTER ARE PUMPED and prepped for the season’s first inter-provincial clash.

The prospect of welcoming a rejuvenated Munster to their doorstep coupled with the excitement fuelled by their own run of four wins from five approaching the opening Champions Cup fixtures has ignited a something resembling giddiness.

And why not. Hooker James Tracy waited patiently long enough for matches like these. Now he’s fit and competing with Sean Cronin for a starting berth.

He knows he’s supposed to bring the same level of intensity and enthusiasm for the week leading up to Zebre away as he is ahead of Saturday’s inter-pro against Munster in the Aviva Stadium (14.05), but he’s too honest to give that sort of lip service.

“You try and have the same (intensity levels) every week, but there is something special about these games. The European weeks, weeks of a final and Munster in the Aviva — it doesn’t get much bigger,” says the 25-year-old.

“My first big involvement was away in Thomond last year. Before that I was only ever 24th man, getting to do the warm-up, tasting the atmosphere and just wanting to be part of it.

“Getting that chance last year was unbelievable, I imagine the closest thing to an international game the Pro12 can produce. It’s class, and when it’s in the Aviva it’s even better.”


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James Tracy and Jonathan Sexton tackle Sam Parry Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Centre Rory O’Loughlin wasn’t quite as energetic as Tracy — perhaps that has a lot to do the with the imminent return from injury of Robbie Henshaw. Though the 22-year-old did also put in a long shift in a tight game on Saturday, a contest which ended with Leinster digging deep in defence to repel the Blues. O’Loughlin credited his centre partner Noel Reid with marshalling his section of the resistance.

Everyone knew there was one big effort needed. Noel was a good voice to have beside me. He’s very calm in those situations. He calmed me down. I get very pumped up in those situations, but he was there to settle me down. The lads showed great intent to hold on with that last scrum.”

“I was happy enough,” O’Loughlin added of his first start for his province.

“As the game progressed I got more and more into it, felt more comfortable that it was just another game. It’s a tough place to go. The crowd were behind them. Whenever we made a mistake you’d hear it. And whenever they made a big line break or carry you’d hear it as well.

Rory O'Loughlin on the attack Source: Camerasport/INPHO

“It was hard to weather the storm – they scored 13 points in the first half – at half time we just had to focus and come out strong. I thought we showed great character to come back and hold on for the win with that great defensive set at the end.

“We showed good unity as a group.”

Before Saturday, a common trend in Leinster’s season had been their inability to back up strong first halves in the second 40 minutes. In Wales though, they went some way to evening up the data on paper.

More importantly, on grass and within the team huddle, the willingness to chisel their way back into a game has solidified confidence and strengthened their sense of momentum approaching this pivotal stage of the season.

“We showed great resilience to come from 10 points down,” Tracy points out.

“They’re unbeaten, and any team that’s unbeaten has that belief and they’re really hard to turn over. So getting four points away to them is a massive victory for us.”

Just nowhere near as big as the one he dreams of celebrating this weekend.

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Sean Farrell

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