‘You can’t wait to run out at Aviva on big days like this’

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‘You can’t wait to run out at Aviva on big days like this’

Having already played 24 times this season, hooker is hoping there are a few more huge games to come, writes Marcus Ó Buachalla


James Tracy going through his tackling routine with Michael Bent. Photo: Sportsfile
James Tracy going through his tackling routine with Michael Bent. Photo: Sportsfile

The talk of the town may be Toulouse in the Aviva on Sunday in the semi-final of the Champions Cup but for Leinster hooker James Tracy the lingering pain of a first defeat of the season at home at the RDS Arena still hangs.

“It’s been a different week. We had Monday off so it was nice to have that extra day to recover but by the same token it was an extra day to think about what went wrong on Saturday against Glasgow and you could definitely sense that in the review meeting.

“Lads wanted to address what we did wrong and then what can we do this week that puts us in the best place possible to perform on Sunday in the Aviva.”

So how long does the Glasgow game linger before the Toulouse focus and excitement starts?

“We review and then we move on. Nothing really changes based on a result.

“We always focus on the performance so it’s the same this week. But there is no point drawing the line if you don’t learn from what went before.

“Then the excitement starts to build. You definitely know it’s a bigger week, our European season on the line.

“Playing in the Aviva Stadium in front of over 40,000 people, the majority of whom are from Leinster, that brings its own pressures but also you just can’t wait for the day to come and to run out there and to represent everyone, your family and friends.”

One thing that Leo Cullen was keen to address after the game against Glasgow was the taste of defeat – what it meant and what it felt like.

As Leinster face their third season in a row of semi-finals in both competitions, the 28-year-old from Kildare has faced into occasions like this before. And he has seen both sides of the coin.

“I think every year is different. You look at other teams. Knocking on the door for years and yet not getting over the line? Why is that?

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“So you change and you adapt and again to my earlier point you take little things, even from the bad days that set you up for hopefully opportunities that may come down the line.

“We all start out, every team, at the start of every season with an eye to those trophies and it takes a hell of a lot of effort and hard work to actually reach this point.

“And again, it is the tiniest margins, tiny changes that can make the difference and every team adapts over time.”

Changed

So what does he feel has changed for the Leinster sides he’s been involved with?

A Leinster that lost to Clermont and Scarlets in semi-finals, to beating Scarlets and Munster in semi-finals, to now facing Toulouse in one and who knows in the other?

“Obviously a few new faces have come in over those years like ‘Fards’ (Scott Fardy) and young lads that have come up from the academy system and we’ve lost a few too don’t forget.

“We also have another year under our belts with Stuart (Lancaster) and how he trains us and how he sets up the week.

“We’re getting used to Felipe (Contepomi) now and his ideas and how he wants us to play and how the forwards and backs link. Again, it’s the smallest of things plus just being exposed to days like that over the last few years.

“It helps you definitely to go through those experiences so you know and can prepare with a clear vision of what is coming down the line.”

Over those same few years, Tracy has changed. A former prop, to now being a six-times Ireland capped hooker and a businessman with part-ownership of a barber shop in Naas – Hawk & Blade.

“I’ve grown a lot over the last few years and the last seven months opening up the business as well.

“You learn new things about yourself. You learn that people are not great at being on time for a start.

“But yeah, away from the business I’d like to think there is still room for me to grow and to get better.

“I would love to be back in that Irish conversation but I have to just focus on my form with Leinster first.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play 24 times this year and there’s been some pretty big games in that so yeah, overall, I feel privileged to be playing with this team in these big games.”

With the news that Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have recommitted to Leinster for the next two years, you’d imagine that’s music to the ears of Tracy and his Leinster team-mates.

“There were a lot of rumours obviously with Stuart but to be honest I try to keep away from all of that. There is plenty of fake news out there!

“So I get the majority of my actual news from my mother. Once I get it from her I know it must be true. You’d imagine that Leo and Stuart were in demand so for them to commit is brilliant for the club.”

So what is it about the coaching combination that seems to be working so well at the moment?

“I think it’s a good mix of personalities. They complement each other really well.

“Leo is obviously the figurehead of the team and Stuart just loves coaching and is obsessed with the game.

“Felipe with his backs play ideas and then just the freshness a new voice brings and ‘Fogs’ (John Fogarty) has been a Leinster man for years and knows so much about scrummaging and the dark arts. Hugh Hogan and Emmet Farrell the same, two lads that know the club inside out and that are very good at what they do.

Different

“They’re all different personalities and I think that’s what really makes it work.”

It reinforces the amount of people involved and the work behind the scenes and what it takes to make the 23 that take on Toulouse on Sunday as ready as they can be. But Tracy has faith that they’ll be good to go.

“I think the exciting things for the supporters is it should be a cracker of a game. Both teams like to play.

“It’s going to be a massive challenge for us in defence and maybe we saw some things in the Glasgow game given how deadly their backs are that we can be better with on Sunday.

“We can’t give away soft early scores for a start. So hopefully we can learn from Saturday and put all that into practice come Sunday in the Aviva.”

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Irish Independent


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