FOR A WHILE last season, it looked as though Dan Leavy’s return from a serious long-term knee injury was all going perfectly to plan.
After missing more than 18 months as a result of the injury sustained against Ulster in March 2019, the flanker made a promising return in October of last year, putting together a string of cameos off the bench against Zebre, Glasgow and the Ospreys before marking his first start back in blue with a commanding display against Edinburgh at the RDS.
Five further appearances followed before Leavy suffered another major setback, with a knee procedure last January ruling him out for the remainder of the campaign.
But a new season hopefully brings with it a fresh start for a player who is surely due a bit of luck. This week, he is back in full training with Leinster, and moves from the injured list to the ‘available for selection’ column ahead of Saturday’s game against the Bulls.
Naturally, Leinster will continue to take a cautious approach with the 27-year-old.
“That’s the big challenge,” said Felipe Contepomi. “For us, we always try to set up a player to succeed so we’re not going to hurry him in terms of going into a game if he’s not 100%, if we’re not 100% sure that he’s good.
Having said that, he’s been training well, and it’s about managing a player that has gone through such an unbelievable injury, but he’s a strong guy. I’m sure he’ll come back as strong as before or even stronger.”
Upon Leavy’s return last season, it didn’t take long for his name to be mentioned in terms of Andy Farrell’s thinking. Yet as Leavy watched on from a distance throughout the Six Nations and summer Tests, he saw others jump the queue and shine on the international stage.
It is hard to believe a player who had established himself as such a key part of the Ireland team only has 11 Test caps to his name. As much as Leinster look to ease him back into things over the coming weeks and months, Leavy will surely be battling a sense that he has to make up for lost time.
“There’s an element of trying to keep his anxiety levels down,” Contepomi admitted.
“We know how long and how hard he’s been working to get to this point. It’s a crucial moment where you want to make sure he’s 100% ready to get onto the field. That’s how we are managing it, and he’s coming really good.”
Overall the mood at Leinster is pretty positive this week. Not only is Leavy back in the mix, so too is tighthead Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose and a host of others.
The province clearly feel they are in a good place ahead of the new United Rugby Championship season, which kicks-off with an Aviva Stadium clash against Currie Cup champions the Bulls on Saturday – a new league, a new opponent, and some new rules to boot, with the 50:22 law coming into play. Contepomi was asked about he’d feel about the rule had it been around during his own playing days.
“To be honest, it’s a rule that definitely can help, but we can’t get too bogged down in it,” he explained.
“It is made to create space rather than pin it down there. I don’t know… If it opens more space in the front line, yeah, I would have fancied that, but if not, it’s fine. We’ll see how it evolves.
There are other possibilities, other rules, that you have to look at. For me, what will change the game more is the drop-out from the goal-line, rather than the 50:22. I haven’t seen many 50:22s, maybe three or four over the last weekend in all the games. I saw a lot more drop-outs or teams put under a lot more pressure because of grubbers or long kicks entering the in-goal area and not knowing what to do, so we will see how those trial rules evolve. They won’t change our way of playing.”
That way of playing won’t contain any major surprises despite Leinster suffering more European heartbreak last season, exciting the Champions Cup at the semi-final stage after a convincing defeat away to La Rochelle.
The club remain confident that their approach to the game will allow them to challenge for European rugby’s top prize again, a competition they last won in 2018.
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“When you see which ways worked, where did you fail, what went wrong on the day (against La Rochelle) and so on, we make sure that we go through the process of saying ‘Are we on the right track in what we want to do? How do we want to play our style of rugby?’ Do we all agree – not only the coaches but everybody in the building – that this is the way we want to play rugby, this is the way want to go, because there is no one way to play rugby, there are many ways but you need to be convinced of the way you want to get results.
“And sometimes defeats reaffirm or make you go through the process of what you need to change, to get better at, but definitely where you have to get better, and that was our process (over the summer).
“We’ve had a break, we’ve had time to reset and have a good pre-season. Now I think the excitement is to get back on track and start a new competition. What drives us always is trying to start a new season with a vision of going for some trophies. That’s what the excitement for this season is.”
Meanwhile, Leinster also confirmed that Adam Byrne is “nearly fully fit” after his own long-term absence, while Harry Byrne will miss this weekend’s game against the Bulls with a foot injury.
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