Twickenham? Dan Leavy’s never been, let alone played, at ‘HQ’.
He’s not alone in that. Nine of the 23 Irish players who featured two days ago against the Scots have never graced those dressing-rooms. CJ Stander has only 67 minutes under his belt there, Jordi Murphy just six. Both were, at least, claimed in Six Nations games.
Tadhg Furlong bagged 11 minutes in ‘Twickers’ but that was in a World Cup warm-up.
“It’s the same game of rugby,” said Leavy.
That’s him. Uber confident. And so he should be. But the venue is a factor that can’t just be brushed aside as an irrelevance by Joe Schmidt’s men as they chase a Grand Slam. And not just because Eddie Jones has never lost there as England coach.
It’s eight years since Ireland pulled off a successful raid away to England. So long ago now that John Hayes was still securing Ireland’s scrum and only five of those who played a part that day – Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Rory Best and Seán Cronin – are still clocking in.
That 2010 win marked a third in Twickenham in just four visits and the fact that all had been earned by a margin of less than a converted try spoke volumes for their worth.
Wales nicked a Triple Crown there two years later on their way to what would be their own Grand Slam — it was also the first defeat suffered by an England team coached by Stuart Lancaster — but England have won 15 in-a-row on their own turf in the Six Nations since then.
“We said as a group we want to do something special and we have an opportunity to do that,” Leavy explained.
That too is important in terms of context.
It was Ireland who soured English title celebrations and ended their Slam ambitions with that narrow four-point win in Dublin 12 months ago and the scent of revenge will be just one motivation for the hosts after their recent defeats in Edinburgh and Paris.
If a third straight defeat doesn’t bear thinking about for England then the idea of ending a triumphant Six Nations campaign with a loss — on St Patrick’s Day, at the hands of the Auld Enemy and given the carrot that dangles in front of them — is more painful to contemplate for the visitors.
“Bittersweet would be the best way to put it,” Leavy admitted.
Leavy was only 14 when Ireland claimed the Slam in 2009. So was Ringrose. Jordan Larmour hadn’t even started life as a secondary school pupil. All of them will recall where they were when Ireland won that game in Cardiff and the effect it had on them.
Ireland presented at the start of this tournament with arguably the least concerning injury list, but that changed as the weeks ticked by. They have leaned heavier than has been comfortable on youth, dealt with defensive frailties and rode their luck.
This wasn’t even supposed to be their year. Not when the calendar threw up trips to Paris and London. Yet, win one more game and they will have claimed the clean sweep by winning in the French and English capitals in the one season for the first time since 1972.
“I didn’t know any of that so… you just made me really nervous,” said Leavy with a smile.
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