Heaslip won't stand alone as Ireland captain
RUGBY:Jamie Heaslip says captaining Ireland in the Six Nations is a dream come true – but he will lean upon Declan Kidney’s wider leadership group.
The Leinster number eight was appointed Ireland skipper at the expense of provincial team-mate Brian O’Driscoll for the upcoming championship.
Heaslip insists he has the full support of the star centre and has vowed to call upon the vast experience in Kidney’s extended squad.
Heaslip said: “It’s a dream come true to captain Ireland in the Six Nations.
“It was a really proud moment for myself, my friends and loved ones. I was delighted, over the moon and experienced all sorts of emotions that Wednesday evening.
“I saw Brian at training the following morning. We shook hands and he’s said he is 100 per cent behind me.
“I’ve captained Leinster in the past, with Brian on the pitch and he’s no different. He’s the same player, professional and team-mate.
“I’ve seen him with the Lions, Ireland and Leinster and he goes about his business in the same way. He doesn’t talk any more or less. It’s fantastic that he’s in the squad and I can lean on him for experience.”
Heaslip has been skippered by some of Ireland’s finest leaders on his way to a Grand Slam , two Triple Crowns and three Heineken Cups, in an already glittering career.
O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Rory Best and Leo Cullen have all led, and Heaslip followed, over the past six years.
Heaslip admits he has already learned an unquantifiable amount from Ireland’s most prominent captains of recent times and he will continue to tap into their wealth of leadership know-how.
He said: “I’m a bit wet behind the years in terms of captaincy but I will go to them for help and experience as well as all the other leaders in the squad.
“I’ve had Brian, Leo, Paul, Rory and Rog for a game as Ireland captain and it’s great to have the majority of them still here.
“I had a text message from Paul, I saw Leo and Brian and had another message off Rory. To have the support of those guys is really quite humbling. These are your peers and it’s great to have them behind me.
“I’ve already learnt a lot off them. Leo, like me, is quite focused on the task at hand and is very aware of the team environment; in Paul’s actions you see his passion come out and pretty similar to Brian.
“You see all these great things and hopefully I’ve picked up bits from them.”
Heaslip, as a consequence of his Ireland promotion, has been tipped as a frontrunner to lead British and Irish Lions into battle in Australia and Warren Gatland has spoke of the Israel-born number eight as a genuine contender.
He said: “Gatty’s said some nice words but the Lions is an outcome of a process.
“I’ve experienced it before and it’s an amazing team to be involved in – the pinnacle of anything in rugby and the highest you can go.
“It would be amazing to go but you have to focus on the short-term goals and for us it’s the Six Nations and first of all the Wolfhounds’ match on Friday.”
Seven straight defeats
Ireland kick-off their championship campaign against Wales, the out-of-form reigning champions, in little more than a week’s time.
Since winning the Grand Slam the Welsh have slumped to seven straight defeats, including a dismal, fireless autumn campaign.
But following three consecutive defeats at the hands of the cross-Irish Sea rivals, including last season’s heartbreaking loss at the Aviva Stadium, Heaslip has warned his charges to be wary.
He added: “From three straight defeats we have learned Wales are a tough team to beat. We thought we had them last year but made two mistakes, they scored two tries and kicked a penalty to win it.
“A lot of people think they are not on form from the autumn but every game was only a score or two from being very different. They are still a very dangerous side.
“The first game is always a momentum builder. We’re focused on that and are aware that we can’t look too far down the road.
“We have Wales and England first up. Talk about hitting the ground running.”