The Leinster back-rower likes to keep his pre-match approach on an even keel and, though his musical tastes normally lean towards harder-edged bands, such as Linkin Park and Foo Fighters, in the hours before kick-off against Italy at the Aviva Stadium today there will be a definite switch to more relaxing tunes.
No superstitions or strict routines to adhere to, just anything that keeps Leavy focused and at ease.
“I keep it very chilled. I would listen to a lot of pretty hardcore music, Linkin Park, Daft Punk, Foo Fighters, but I keep it pretty chilled before a match, pop the earphones in, nothing mad, just stuff to keep me relaxed until we hop on the bus before the game.
“I just listen to what I’m into at the moment, but I find if I get too pumped, it’s almost detrimental, so I’ll have a bit of funk in there, a bit of disco, Earth, Wind and Fire, stuff like that. You don’t want to be going in bashing your head off a wall. You need to be clear in the head.”
The last couple of days, since the back-rower learned he would be in the starting line-up to face Italy and make his first Six Nations start for Ireland, have been spent making sure he has nailed down his role at openside flanker in a back row also featuring Peter O’Mahony at blindside and Leinster team-mate Jack Conan at No 8.
“I’m excited. This is what you want. It’s great and to be starting as well, I’m really looking forward to lining out in front of my friends and family and a full house in the Aviva.”
Leavy’s championship bow and second cap following a November 2016 Test debut against Canada had come in the final game of last year’s Six Nations and something of a shock to the system. He was promoted from 24th man at the last minute to the replacements after Jamie Heaslip withdrew injured just before kick-off against England.
From heading to the showers to walking back out down the tunnel next to Billy Vunipola was some turnaround and his eventual involvement 14 minutes from time to help close out the victory was a forerunner of a more extended contribution last Saturday in Paris.
When Josh van der Flier suffered a season-ending knee injury with nine minutes of the first half against France remaining, Leavy had another chance to show he has mastered the art of hitting the ground running.
His 44-minute performance in difficult conditions at Stade de France earned rave reviews, most importantly from Joe Schmidt.
“I think Dan, visibly, he got straight into the game, carried strongly, got off the line and defended strongly,” said the Ireland head coach. “You just want players to be decisive and grab the game by the scruff of the neck and we think Dan did that.”
Leavy himself would rather deflect any praise but points out that last Saturday was not a new experience.
“I’ve been on the bench for a lot of big games, before so I’m pretty well accustomed to it. I’ve also had to come on after like seven minutes for a good few games in the RDS before, as well, so I’ve experience on that front.
“When I saw Josh go down, I knew straight away that I’d be on. I was actually warming up under the posts and just ran straight across and knew I was in the game. I just took a breath and I was ready to go.
“When you’re on the bench you’re trying to keep yourself clued into the game as much as possible, watching the plays being run, what we’re getting success from and what we’re struggling with, so even at half-time you might say to the others, ‘this is working well for us, this isn’t’, ‘they seem to be doing a lot of this’. I think if you’re on the bench, that’s one of your responsibilities, to aid the team.”
Now, Leavy has his chance to contribute from the first whistle. Like his provincial team-mate Conan, he wins his fifth cap this afternoon, his only previous start having come last summer in the first Test with Japan, against whom he scored two tries.
Injury struck the back-rower early season before a hamstring injury ruled him out of November’s Guinness Series and such is the depth of back-row talent with Leinster and Ireland that Leavy has learned to bide his time.
“It’s always a tough thing to tell young players to be patient. I want to play every game, but I understand that you can’t. It’s tough, but when the opportunities do come, you’ve got to take them, that’s the main thing. It’s so competitive and there’s such a high calibre of players in Leinster and Ireland, but it’s a great opportunity for me on Saturday and it’s up to me now to perform,” said Leavy who believes his time in the Ireland camp since 2016 has given him the platform to put in the type of performance that advances his cause.
“Me and Joey [Carbery] were chatting about it yesterday, just saying the longer you’re in an environment you can kind of take ownership of it. So, as opposed to me coming in last year looking to lads who’d played a lot of times with a lot of caps and asking them for advice, now there’s lads coming in and I’ll be explaining to them what happens.
“So, yeah, the comfort level rises. You become really pally with all the other lads from the other provinces and the coaches. It’s better craic, it’s more enjoyable, there’s less kind of fear going around the place and it’s brilliant.”