Tuesday 25 October 2016

Tracy throws ball in irish court

Leinster hooker won't be content until he pulls on the green jersey

Leinster’s James Tracy switched from prop to hooker thanks to Joe Schmidt’s advice. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s James Tracy switched from prop to hooker thanks to Joe Schmidt’s advice. Photo: Sportsfile

James Tracy spends more time throwing darts than Phil 'The Power' Taylor.

The Leinster hooker has to because he has to locate a moving target.

And that's only the start of it in a multi-skill position.

Phil has it easy, you see.

The journey from loose-head prop has been a steady one, prompted by an intervention from his former coach, one Mr Schmidt.

"Joe, before, he left kind of suggested it," said Tracy.

"I was playing loose-head prop at the time and he was kind of asking me did I have aspirations to play internationally and of course I said: 'I did.'

"He just felt that my frame wouldn't be big enough to carry the weight I'd have to be to be an international prop and that I should think about moving to hooker if that's what I wanted to do.

"So I made the decision. That was it then."

There is the decision and then there is the work to make it happen.

"There is a hoop in the gym you can throw into and I'd get a few of the Academy guys to make a pod and I'd throw to that," he said.


"At the start, I probably did not realise how many reps I would need to get in.

"I used to thrown three times a week, maybe four. I did that for a year and half.

"It got to point where I was okay. I'd reached a level.

"Was my throwing progressing at a good enough rate? No it was not. So I had to sit down and I've worked it out now. I have a programme about what I do every day.

"I throw a certain amount of balls every day and it is working a lot better again. I am still not perfect. I am still working on it."

The days between the change and his Champions Cup debut against Bath have been long and trying, alright.

It all began with a boy's dream of playing in green.

"As a kid you're obviously dreaming of playing for Ireland. I suppose it's how you're going to get to that goal.

"It's a long road and I'll never jump the gun on it. I've always taken it step by step.

"Hopefully, if I keep working hard and get an opportunity I can take it."

He will have to overtake Seán Cronin and Richardt Strauss at Leinster or at least reach parity.

They say there are two types of hookers, those who embrace scrummaging and those who do it as a matter of necessity.

The 24 year-old falls into the first category and even took up pilates to increase his agility to strike the ball.

"It is not like you have to put you leg around your head to do it," he laughed.

"It is just getting used to the whole movement of it."

The strike is one thing, scrum stability is everything to a member of the front row club.

"As a loose-head you kind of get a bit of a love for the scrum," he said.

"It's actually quite different, hooker, it's more similar to a tight-head.

"It's kind of got to the point now where actually I feel like I've been doing it my whole life.

"The scrum is almost irrelevant unless you're being dominated by another team and then it's the most important thing because you can just win penalties and gain advantage and territory and it gives you momentum.

"We talk about it the whole time, the first scrum is going to set the tone for the rest of the game.

"It gives you energy if you're dominant in that, it kind of spurs the whole team on."

This is reflected in the modern day sight of wingers rushing in from the cold to clap their forward friends on the back when a penalty is earned and the need to defend the whitewash taken away by one monster heave.

Tracy has moved from jumping right out of his comfort zone to putting on show his wider set of skills such as his textbook, low centre of gravity poaching and that no-look flash pass to Isa Nacewa against Bath.

Was that a moment out of character? Or, was it the real Tracy playing with real confidence?

"I would always have tried things in training, they do not always work out," he smiled.

"But, I would always try and practice my skills as much as I can and, hopefully, I can pull off a few more if I get the opportunity and when the time is right." He has learned there is a time and a place for all things.

"When I was younger, I used to try things that I probably should not have.


"I dunno, it probably did hamper selection in certain ways but it is about learning when to try those things and when not to."

The ex-Newbridge front rower was not asked to follow-up against Wasps.

Maybe, it was just as well given how Leinster registered the sort of records you don't want on your resume.

The Six Nations window is open now and this is when Tracy must show he is not a one-hit wonder.

This two-month period is all about showing consistency.

Only, then, the shooting star will make his boyhood dream come true.

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