David Pocock battle will prove if Dan Leavy has well and truly arrived
'They'd better have a red button for Dan Leavy versus David Pocock!'
That was the take of The Hard Yards team as they anticipated Ireland pitching Leinster flanker Dan Leavy into a fearsome breakdown battle with Australian poacher-supreme David Pocock.
The Wallabies flanker made light work of Ireland at the breakdown in the First Test and Joe Schmidt has counter-acted that by bringing in Devin Toner and Dan Leavy for the second helping, in Melbourne.
Former Ireland internationals Kevin McLaughlin and James Downey discussed Leavy vs. Pocock [from 23:30 below] and have us salivating for the Second Test at AAMI Park.
Leavy entered 2018 as Ireland's third-choice openside. With Sean O'Brien out injured, Joe Schmidt went with Josh van der Flier to start against France, in the Six Nations, and Rhys Ruddock was ahead of him in the queue until a hamstring injury ruled him out. Tommy O'Donnell's shoulder issues ruled him out of the championship too.
Leavy got his chance when van der Flier badly damaged his knee after 22 minutes of the France game. He entered the fray and looked completely at home in the white-hot atmosphere that was broiling around him. He was decent against Italy, next time out, but excelled in the victories over Wales, Scotland and England. As if to drive home the point, he finished the season as a destroyer for Leinster on their march to Champions Cup glory.
The 23-year-old was forced to watch the Brisbane loss from behind the sub's bench and admitted it was seriously tough. He gets his chance to lace up and take on both Pocock and Michael Hooper. He won't win it for Ireland alone, but a big game would bump him towards that world-class bracket.
McLaughlin spent much of his career, with Leinster and Ireland, at the breakdown coal-face. He was in awe of Pocock's stunning return to Test rugby after 18 months away. "It was pretty incredible but, you know what, he's generally illegal," he says.
"Looking back at his approach and the way he actually makes his poaches... he actually has this ability to fall with the tackled player, attach to the tackled player. Doesn't release, gets straight back up and he never really releases the tackled player. He has such a low centre of gravity and huge upper-body strength. He latches on with his arms and uses his arms to leverage him up, and he gets his hips up in the air. He paints a really nice picture for the referee."
"And he isn't always actually going for the ball. Sometimes he is just blocking the ball in. So it looks like he is trying to get the ball but he's in a really nice position and it is next to impossible to clean him out. Because he falls with the tackled player and there is no release, it is very hard for the referee."
Jordi Murphy may have taken the fall for being unable to quell Pocock and Wallabies captain David Pocock at the breakdown but Ireland will be well aware that a collective effort is required.
Still, having a formidable, young man like Leavy in-situ will be a massive help. It should be a fascinating watch.