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Saturday 23 September 2017

Tracy welcomes new adventure

Blues 28-man squad fly to SA today

Leinster’s James Tracy pictured at Leinster Rugby headquarters in Belfield
Leinster’s James Tracy pictured at Leinster Rugby headquarters in Belfield

James Tracy is a man of firsts.

The former loose-head turned hooker was there when The Aviva Stadium was first opened to the Irish public back in 2010.

It was one of those games when everything came easy to the Leinster/Ulster combination that destroyed Munster/Connacht 68-0 on a sunny August afternoon.

Since then, the advice of Joe Schmidt to move across one into the middle of the front row has paid handsome dividends.

The 26 year-old made his Leinster debut in November 2012; took his Ireland bow last November in what has been an upward swing to his career.

Now, the hooker is making his first sojourn to South Africa on what is rugby's definition of a working holiday.

There won't be too much time to take in the sights, the sounds, the wonders of Port Elizabeth, where Leinster encounter the Southern Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Culture

"I'm really looking forward to going over there and testing ourselves, taking in the culture and everything else there is to offer as well," he said.

While the management have been rooted in a logistical nightmare, the perk for the players is that they get to go there and do what they love to do.

"I'm really looking forward to going over there and testing ourselves, taking in the culture and everything else there is to offer as well.

"Everyone is buzzing about it. A lot of people haven't even been there before.

"Going anywhere different is always exciting and getting to play rugby there as well is even better.

"We're all pretty pumped to get down there," said Tracy.

Leinster are preparing to lock horns with a different animal than that seen before in the PRO14.

"We're under no illusion - even though they haven't had too much luck so far - that they will be tough to beat at home."

First things first, the priority is to make the plane out of Dublin today.

There were still a number of decisions to be made overnight surrounding the availability to make the 28-man squad.

It is a sad reality that there will be disappointment for those unable to take flight for one reason or another.

Already, the sting of injury has ensured Rob Kearney (hamstring), Jamie Heaslip (back) and, probably, Dan Leavy (ankle) will not make it.

Joey Carbery (calf), Fergus McFadden (calf) and James Ryan (shoulder) have been rated as touch and go.

However, Ireland internationals Dave Kearney and Jordi Murphy, front rowers Peter Dooley and Bryan Byrne, centre Noel Reid and loose forward Peader Timmins are all back in the frame.

Ireland's Richardt Strauss is another one of those out of the loop with a knee injury.

This leaves Tracy, Sean Cronin and Bryan Byrne nailed on to be the specialists.

Surprisingly, the ex-Newbridge College man met with a negative response to the addition of the two South African clubs to the League.

"A few of my friends were like 'aw, that's a bit of a trek,' but why wouldn't you want to do it?

"I would be open to anything. It's new challenges, new experiences.

"We didn't think it would happen this year but fair play to everyone for getting it over the line."

All the shine will fade to grey should Leinster fall in a hole on Saturday.

"I think that's the reality of any tour with a couple of games," he reasoned.

"You want to start strong because it would ruin the whole buzz of the tour at the start, or if you finish badly it leaves a bad taste.

"We're going over there with the attitude that we're going to win both games, no matter who we're playing."

There are the points on the table for the club with ten points from two games.

There is also the Leinster brand and what it represents on a global level, reaching out to a new audience.

"In that respect, it's Ireland v South Africa on a smaller scale," stated Tracy.

"Of course, we're aware of that, but it won't change how we prepare for the games or anything like that.

"It just makes it exciting. It makes the occasion more special, just to be involved, and especially to be the first ones to go there.

"I was lucky enough to be involved in the first game at the Aviva as well, so I'm setting the way," he joked.

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