Leinster team manager Easterby comes to the defence of Heaslip's captaincy
The leadership of both Leinster and Ireland is under intense scrutiny, with Leinster team manager Guy Easterby yesterday offering a vigorous defence of Jamie Heaslip’s captaincy. However, in the same interview, Easterby was unable to confirm Leo Cullen would be given a one-year contract extension.
Heaslip’s win ratio as Ireland captain, two wins from five, is in stark contrast to 11 victories from 12 outings with the Leinster armband. And Easterby is particularly disappointed with the comments of George Hook on the RTÉ panel
“From Jamie’s game, outside the captaincy, I think he’s playing well. It’s very hard to listen to some people on the television criticising his performances because Jamie plays a certain role and is very selfless in terms of the way that he plays the game and depending on the make-up of the backrow that he plays in.
“He is a good enough player to be able to adjust his role accordingly, and I think he’s doing that. His individual performances are right up there so I’d be disappointed with people questioning that.
“The captaincy, he’s done a good job here, he’s got an incredible record,” Easterby continued. “The international captaincy is a different environment and he’s obviously learning that as he goes along but for people to be questioning his choices from the stands or from the television, I find that incredible.”
The presence of former national captains Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best on the field has been used as a stick to beat Heaslip, again, something Easterby found astounding.
“Jamie’s very much his own man and I don’t think he’d take on a role like that and not perform it the way that he sees best. You’ve got to give someone like that an opportunity to grow into the role.
“It would be wrong of him, certainly at the early stage of his captaincy, not to be having a word with those guys and saying ‘what do you think?’ because that’s all part and parcel of learning.
“You don’t learn that by talking to someone before a game, when it’s a pressure environment and you want to get someone like Brian O’Driscoll’s opinion, who has 120 caps; I think that’s a pretty clever thing to do.”
Easterby, along with Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson, is central to negotiations with Cullen, and the player’s father, Frank, said an announcement on Cullen’s future is imminent.
The 35-year-old made it clear after Saturday’s victory over the Scarlets he wants to play on for another season.
“We are still chatting away to him,” said Easterby. “Obviously, I heard Leo’s interesting comments after the game but Leo is someone who knows his own mind and I am sure that things will come out on that in the near future.”
Leinster continue to scour the foreign markets for an outhalf to replace Jonathan Sexton, but Easterby was adamant they are not recruiting a foreign winger despite Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway leaving for Connacht and Munster, or a loosehead prop to replace Heinke van der Merwe, who is off to Stade Français.
Along with Cullen, the contracts of Luke Fitzgerald and O’Driscoll also remain unresolved.
Why is it taking so long to nail down a three-time winning European Cup captain? “I don’t think it is taking so long,” Easterby responded. “Certainly I don’t feel the same as you feel. Certain things need to be worked through and that is the case with every contract.
“Leo is just the same as everyone else when it comes to his contract. I know he is captain of the club at the moment but there are things from both sides that need to be worked through and hopefully we are near the end of that and we will be able to announce something reasonably soon.”
Mike McCarthy will be added to Leinster’s secondrow roster this summer; however, Damien Browne is out long term after open shoulder surgery.The 23-year-old Mark Flanagan is just back from back surgery.
Fitzgerald and the other Ireland replacements in Murrayfield returned to provincial training yesterday but there is no ambiguity about Leinster’s desire to keep the 2009 Lions Test winger.
“Luke is someone we are desperate to keep and we are working incredibly hard on that. That would be something we would very keen to get tied up as quickly as possible.”
The problem of securing provincial contracts has been exacerbated by the IRFU recently reducing the number of centrally contracted players from 30 to 19.
It means the Fitzgerald and O’Driscoll contracts are eating into Leinster’s budget, as is the recruitment of an outhalf.