James Tracy eager to establish himself with Ireland
Having fought through the ranks at Leinster, James Tracy is now looking to establish himself in the Irish pecking order at Test level.
The Leinster hooker made 26 appearances for his province this season and was rewarded for his consistent performances with a first cap off the bench in Ireland's 52-21 victory over Canada at the Aviva Stadium last November.
Tracy has gone on to make two further appearances from the bench for Ireland, against Italy in the Six Nations and last Saturday's 50-22 win against Japan. Now, the 26-year-old is aiming to make his first Test start in Saturday's rematch with the Brave Blossoms in Tokyo.
"I think any competitive person in any environment wants to be playing," said Tracy.
"If I get the opportunity I'd love it. It would be an honour to pull on the jersey again. Hopefully I do, but if I don't, we can move on."
Joe Schmidt has an abundance of riches to choose from at hooker with Rory Best, on duty with the Lions in New Zealand, Sean Cronin, Niall Scannell, Dave Heffernan and Tracy all vying for a starting berth.
Fighting for Test recognition is one thing, but Tracy has had to contend with some ferocious competition at Leinster over the past four seasons.
"It's funny, in Leinster there's Bryan Byrne, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss, so if you make a mistake you're falling down the pecking order very quickly," he said.
"So that pressure is always there and you learn the more you dwell on a mistake, the more you'll make of it, it's like the law of attraction, so I've learned the hard way, to live in the moment, and try deal with it that way. That has helped me in here when the pressure and stakes are higher.
"I still have to throw the ball in the lineout, as if no one's there, the old trick of imagine everyone is naked in the room when you're making a public speech."
Like goal-kickers, hookers must contend with unbelievable pressure on the rugby pitch.
Lineout throwing is one of Tracy's key strengths but the Dublin native admits that the set-piece skill requires as much mental fortitude as accuracy.
"It's unbelievably hard, you're the loneliest person in the stadium," he said.
"But at the end of the day with Joe (Schmidt), and at Leinster, we walk about 'the next moment' and as hard as it is to do you have to learn to do that, because if you dwell on something it'll make the next moment and the next moment worse, and it'll be a domino effect."
Tracy has gone from fifth-choice hooker at Leinster to a key player in Schmidt's squad as the Kiwi head coach looks to broaden Ireland's squad depth ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Tracy, however, is taking nothing for granted as he looks to fend off competition from fellow tourists Niall Scannell and Heffernan for a starting spot this weekend.
"It's mad. I remember Ian Madigan (at Leinster) saying to me before that it might seem that you're a million miles away but you don't realise how close you are until it happens because it all happens at once," he added.
"Even when I was fifth choice I was doing my own routine, training as best I could. You can't control anything else, you just have to hope the opportunity comes, and I was lucky enough that I got one."