By Brendan O’Brien
The mantra all last week was that the All Blacks was a concern for another day.
The only time New Zealand was allowed elbow its way into conversation prior to Saturday’s arm wrestle with the Pumas was Greg Feek’s consideration of perceptions about Ireland back in his homeland.
Ireland’s Kiwi scrum coach obliged with the kind of ‘Jeez, people think Ireland are great’ line that some continue to lap up but that was more or less it from within the ‘bubble’ in terms of the world champions.
It came as a surprise then to learn after this perplexing 28-17 defeat of Argentina that Mr Focus himself, Joe Schmidt, had snaffled a glimpse of New Zealand’s game against England in Twickenham before leaving for the Aviva Stadium.
That’s the kind of morsel that fits too neatly into the theoretical narrative that maybe, for all Ireland’s insistence on ‘one game at a time’, there was a sub-conscious glance ahead to the game everyone has been salivating over in this November window.
If that was the case then Dan Leavy can plead not guilty.
“I was in my room kinda messing around and then I was stretching and doing some core activation, things like that,” said the Leinster flanker when asked if he had been tempted to digest some of the events from London.
Whatever the preparation – and Leavy has spoken in detail about the Pilates, sea swims and other extras he does to keep in prime condition – it paid off for him on a day when he was an earlier-than-expected replacement for the unfortunate Sean O’Brien.
Leavy was immense. In a game where forwards had to scrape and scrap for inches, he was eating up yards by the chunk. His 11 carries for 38 metres boiled down to almost 3.5 metres a go. Ireland’s next best was the irrepressible James Ryan whose average was just 1.6.
Add in seven tackles and a clean turnover and it amounted to an impressive body of work in just over 40 minutes of rugby. But then there was previous here stretching back to February when he replaced the stricken Josh van der Flier in Paris.
Leavy’s effort in the Stade de France then earned him the start at openside for the rest of the Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign. The consistency of such excellence has been matched only by the matter-of-fact manner in which he discusses them.
“I tried to fit into the game as quickly as I could. It was very physical, a big Argie team. We knew how dangerous they were on counter-attack so we had to keep alive for the whole game. I thought we did well in the second half to pin them down, we got our scores, applied pressure and kept playing the game down there. We did well in the second half.”
Leavy’s contribution at the weekend was all the more notable for the months preceding it. A minor shoulder injury delayed his start to his season, so much so that he had just 165 minutes in credit by the time the Test window rolled around.
Named by Schmidt in the initial squad, he was booked on a flight to South Africa for Leinster’s PRO14 fixture with the Southern Kings at a time when half the national squad was making for Chicago and the other half was holed up back at HQ.
Leavy didn’t arrive back from Port Elizabeth and into camp until the Tuesday evening, missing one of only two pitch training sessions in the week as a result, so he should be well primed for the ‘ABs’ with a full week of prep.
It will be the first meeting between the sides since the 21-9 win for the All Blacks in Dublin 24 months ago when the visitors avenged the loss in Chicago a fortnight before with an intensity of performance that crossed the line at times.
“It’s the top-ranked team versus the second-ranked team so I’d love to play. There’s so many lads, so many variations that could come up... We had a completely different back row (on Saturday) than we did then so there’s a lot of names in the hat.”