Six Nations on back burner as James Tracy puts Leinster duty first

James Tracy already knows what it is to pull on a senior Ireland jersey but the hooker is refusing to take a peek over the horizon towards the Six Nations as Leinster go about the task of securing a home Champions Cup quarter-final this week.
Six Nations on back burner as James Tracy puts Leinster duty first

See off Castres in France on Friday and the province will be booking the Aviva Stadium for a knockout date in the last eight but the matter of that iconic international tournament in between now and then can’t easily be ignored.

With 16 club appearances in the bank, the 25-year old UCD hooker has already surpassed his previous best tally for a season and, with Sean Cronin out of action for the next 10 weeks with a significant hamstring injury, the opportunities for Tracy are obvious.

Richardt Strauss has been slowly making his way back to fitness after his own injury hell, and Niall Scannell has been impressing down in Munster, but Tracy was named in Joe Schmidt’s November squad and got 20 minutes and a try against Canada at Lansdowne Road.

And that would appear to leave him top of the queue of those looking to understudy team captain Rory Best when Ireland get their 2016 schedule underway in Murrayfield against Scotland next month.

“It is a good opportunity for me but I just need to look after my roles and keep playing well,” said Tracy. “Nothing is guaranteed, I need to put my head down. There is great competition in Leinster, never mind Ireland. I am not thinking about the Six Nations. There are plenty of good hookers around the country who are starting every week at the moment as well. I need to be playing well to get selected.”

Tracy is just another example of a youngster taking a chance when offered it by Leinster this year but he has had to earn the opportunity having switched three years ago from prop to hooker and sitting out an entire season when frozen out by Matt O’Connor.

Thirteen appearances last term served as a decent foundation for this campaign and he admits that the minutes afforded to him against Bath in Europe have been critical to his self-belief. “The experience of that is invaluable,” he explained. “The big games are where you learn the most about yourself: Whether you can handle the pressure and the different things that come with the build-up and everything like that.”

The stream of young but ready-to-go youngsters such as Tracy has continued to flow into Leo Cullen’s first-team this season with talents such as Joey Carbery, Ross Byrne, Adam Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin among them but Leinster’s collective progress comes with a caveat.

Northampton Saints shipped 97 points to Leinster in December and Montpellier were riddled for another 57 last Friday evening. Any talk of the province returning to the European summit should not pass without figures such as those being committed to the conversation.

“I don’t think it (matters) too much but we earned the points,” said Tracy. “It wasn’t as if we were playing against a bad side. I thought we played really well to earn those points and it was a good test for us that should leave us in good stead.”

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