James Tracy knows there are naysayers out there when it comes to the South African experiment but the Leinster hooker can see only the advantages as the province’s playing staff checks in today for the long-haul flight to the PRO14’s newest territory.
Leo Cullen will only confirm the 28-man squad today for the 12-day trip which will take in games against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth and the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein but Tracy has clearly been told to ready his passport.
“Everyone is buzzing about it,” said the Ireland international whose rugby travels thus far have taken in Scotland, Wales, Italy, a stint in Bucharest with Emerging Ireland and Ireland’s summer tour to the USA and Japan.
“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 but 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.”
Among those definitely not travelling are the squad’s five Lions. Jamie Heaslip is still seeking full fitness after back surgery while Rob Kearney picked up yet another hamstring injury, against Cardiff last Friday, that will keep him at home.
Dan Leavy rolled his ankle against the Blues and is also unlikely to make the trip which Leinster will take via Paris. Joey Carbery (calf), Dave Kearney (groin), Jordi Murphy (knee), Noel Reid, Fergus McFadden (calf) and James Ryan (shoulder) are all in consideration.
“A few of my friends were like, ‘aw, that’s a bit of a trek’ but why wouldn’t you want to do it?” said Tracy.
“I would be open to anything. It’s new challenges, new experiences. Everyone is pumped. We didn’t think it would happen this year but fair play to everyone for getting it over the line.”
The Cheetahs and Kings conceded a combined 182 points across their first four games in Ireland and Wales as they attempt to come to terms with their new surroundings with squads that have undergone considerable turmoil.
The arrival in-country of Zebre this week will give them both cause for optimism as they brace for rounds three and four.
The performances and results against Leinster will be a more reliable indicator as to their short-term prospects in the competition.
“The league has shown, and rugby has shown, that any team at home are a different animal to away. From their perspective, I’m sure as a player group it has been tough to come together and be playing on the other side of the world in the space of a couple of weeks.
“It all happened very fast for them. There’s a bit of a period where you can understand if a few results didn’t go their way but I know from watching video that they can play rugby. They have a lot of good players and we’re under no illusions: it’s going to be tough over there.”
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