Heaslip humbled and delighted at captaincy
As Declan Kidney noted, Jamie Heaslip would be swift to deny it. In truth, he would probably the first to do so. But though it goes against the image of a player who is so relaxed he’ll take a pre-match 40 winks on a dressing-room floor and, clad in large earphones, drops 40 metre goals as part of his warm-up routine, he actually is “a consummate professional”.
Beneath the laid-back exterior, he also cares. Profoundly. It’s why Joe Schmidt has turned to him on a dozen occasions in the past and why Kidney has this week. For many who have come across him, Heaslip has long since been an FIC (Future Ireland Captain), it was merely a question of when rather than if, and with the last three men to captain Ireland all ruled out, he was the obvious choice this week.
His off-pitch demeanour may not always suggest a natural born leader of men, but then again he was born in Tiberias, Israel, while his father, retired Brig Gen Richard Heaslip, was stationed there with Unifil.
On receiving the news via a call from Kidney on Wednesday while in Tesco, of all places, he immediately rang his parents. “The first thing he said to me, he goes, ‘Congratulations on your captaincy but I’m still a colonel, so I pull rank.’ They were literally his first words so I was put back in my box then,” Heaslip recalled with a broad grin.
“Yeah, Dad has obviously led men in much more dangerous fields than I. Well, actually, I don’t know!” he interrupted himself, rugby war zones flashing through his mind.
“But he’s led. He’s never sat me down and told me anything but probably the way I used to learn rugby was off my brother, monkey see monkey do. Being around my father so long, seeing him work in places like Kosovo, Cyprus, Israel, Belgium, living over there and seeing what he was working in, I obviously picked up a couple of things.
“It’s probably why I’m able to compartmentalise things a bit, deal with rugby as a job as such and then step away from it afterwards. That’s how I saw Dad do it. He would be the ultimate professional in what he was doing, then step away from it and be the family man that he is.”
Nor, like much else, will the captaincy faze him, and it’s worth noting that any time you cast a glance over a Leinster or Ireland huddle in recent years he’s often been the most vocal. One of the first texts was from Leinster CEO Mick Dawson reminding him of his 100 per cent record as Leinster captain. “No pressure there”.
“I’ve had a couple of the Leinster fraternity get on to me, making sure I keep the winning streak going that I’ve had at Leinster,” he said while, typically, not knowing how many games it had been. “I just let Joe (Schmidt) know every time. So hopefully I’ll be able to walk in to the changing room and let Deccie know afterwards.”
His routine won’t change. He’ll focus on mini blocks of five minutes, on getting the small details right and letting the bigger ones look after themselves. “The only extra thing I have to worry about is the after-match function and making sure I don’t curse and upset my mother. And that’s about it. Everything else stays the same. Deccie alluded to it, that we have the players that are well able to step up to the plate and lead in any given situation. So I’ll talk the way I’ll normally talk if Paul (O’Connell) or Rory (Best) or Brian (O’Driscoll) were there, and I’m sure the other guys will do exactly the same thing, and nothing will change.” After 50 caps and 153 games for Leinster, he’s had plenty of tutelage.
“I’ve been lucky to have some of the best captains around. Brian’s been captain as long as I’ve been with Ireland, Paulie as well, Paulie has captained the Lions, Leo (Cullen) week in, week out. I’ve had Jono (Gibbes) who has been captain of New Zealand Maoris as my coach as well so I’ve had these great captains around me. Hopefully I’ve picked up one or two tricks off them.
“To be honest I’m quite humbled by it all. The last time I played for Ireland, I got to lead them out for my 50th cap and I remember running out on the field just thinking it was the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. So to get to do so as captain now, it’s Roy of the Rovers type stuff.”