Leamy: time to bury World Cup debacle

DENIS LEAMY will steer the Ireland pack from his regular No 8 slot against Italy at Croke Park tomorrow, even though his mid-season revival in the wake of a forgettable Rugby World Cup campaign came courtesy of a switch to blindside flanker with Munster in early December.

The make-up of the back row ahead of Tuesday’s team announcement was the subject of much debate. Jamie Heaslip seemed set for a Six Nations debut at eight with Leamy then able to translate his provincial form to the national side at six. But the anticipated restructuring never manifested itself.

Instead, Eddie O’Sullivan has put his trust in the old guard with Simon Easterby, David Wallace and Leamy manning the back-row positions again, while Heaslip must bide his time on the replacements bench.

“We’ve obviously played together a lot,” Leamy says in reference to the familiar six-seven-eight axis “We know each other’s game so well and I’m delighted to be back working with the boys. I’m looking forward to playing with them on Saturday too.

“Jamie is in great form at the moment. If he has to come on, I’ve no doubt he will do a very, very good job as well.”

The Rugby World Cup debacle has followed this Irish team like a dark cloud, but just as O’Sullivan has reiterated this week, Leamy feels a line needs to be drawn through a forgettable four weeks in Bordeaux and France last September.

“You can’t dwell in the past no matter what you do whether you achieve things, whether you lose things or suffer disappointments. Whatever happens you look forward. There’s always a new competition, a new game and something in front of you.

“There is a great opportunity to draw a line through the World Cup. The form is good and I enjoyed training this week. Management have tried to bring in more emphasis on enjoyment in training and players are very much looking forward to Saturday.”

Leamy found plenty enjoyment in Munster’s latest European Cup journey, the latest chapter culminating in a glorious 17-3 win over Wasps with the Boherlahan-Dualla man notching the clinching try. With seven of that Munster team starting on Saturday, can their confidence energise the Irish team? “The confidence is there,” Leamy reassures. “I am very happy that we in Munster got out of our group. But we’re back in the green jersey now with a different set of calls and a different set-up. We have to put our heads down and make sure we get our homework done ahead of Saturday.”

Expectations have been low ahead of kick-off in the 2008 Six Nations and Leamy, who wins his 28th Irish cap in two days, is keen to show that the RWC didn’t showcase the real Ireland.

Of more concern to Leamy is tomorrow’s Italian job. He’s a fan of the Azzurri’s new head coach, Nick Mallet, who himself was an eight of some substance with Oxford University and Western Province, but won just two caps for the Springboks. A keen student of the game, Leamy compares the Italian style to that of Mallet’s home country, South Africa, and expects an attritional contest.

“Their front five and their back row include strong men, quality rugby players who’ve a good know-how about them. I think they’ve got more in common with South African rugby than a lot of teams. And any time a new coach comes in, players are keen to impress him and show what they can do. Nick Mallet is a very good coach, he has a very good track record and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do for them. They’ve got a very good quality pack, they are always difficult up front, so his coaching and his know-how will add to that.”

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