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Leinster all fired up for South Africa adventure: Tracy

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

For many, the perceived glamour of the two new additions to the Guinness PRO14 has already worn off after four heavy defeats, and yet the excitement in the Leinster squad as they prepare to depart for Johannesburg this evening is palpable.

While the management have been challenged by the logistics of getting to and from South Africa for their games against the Southern Kings and Cheetahs, the squad members can focus on the experience.

A small number have been in these parts before. Isa Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park have both been on similar South African stints with their respective Super Rugby franchises while Jordi Murphy, Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock and Sean Cronin were part of the Ireland team who were denied a series win in Port Elizabeth in 2016.

Luke McGrath, Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier and Barry Daly were in the Ireland Under-20 squad that downed the Baby Boks on home soil in 2012.

Yet for the remainder of the squad this is a first, and James Tracy was not about to let the disappointment of the Kings' and Cheetahs' starts to the season get in the way of his enthusiasm.

"I'm really looking forward to going over there and testing ourselves, taking in a bit of the culture," the Kildare native said yesterday. "Everyone is buzzing about it. A lot of people haven't even been there before. Going anywhere different is always exciting and getting to play rugby there as well is even better.

"We're all pumped to get down there but we're under no illusion, even though they haven't had too much luck so far, that they will be tough to beat at home."

As soon as Tracy heard talk that the tournament was expanding into a new continent, he was up for the travel.

"I was all for it," he said. "Why wouldn't you want to do it? I would be open to anything. It's new challenges, new experiences. Everyone here is pumped.

"Someone will have something bad to say about it but from everyone I've spoken to in here we are all pumped for it. We are all really looking forward to seeing where the league goes."

Leinster make the journey having collected the maximum from their opening two fixtures, something that gives them a little comfort as they take this step into the relative unknown.

The Kings are first up at Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday, and before the game the Irish players will have taken three flights to get to their destination.

They'll transfer down the south coast to Cape Town next week and base themselves there until Thursday when they make the trip up to the Highveld ahead of the clash with Bloemfontein's Cheetahs before returning home.

It is a hectic itinerary but Tracy believes the tour should help bring the squad together.

"Any tour just galvanises a group, so I think that's a massive thing for us," the Ireland international said. "We don't get to go away for that long together unless you're in Irish camp.

"I think just to bring us together as a group, so we'll all be socialising with each other as a group, off-training hours, as well as getting more time to do walkthroughs and stuff like that.

"If we went there at the end of the season it would still be different, but it can only be positive going over for two weeks and getting to be with each other for that amount of time."

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