Positive vibes from an excited captain
If there’s one characteristic you know Jamie Heaslip will continue to bring to the job of captaining his country it’s positive energy. Bucketloads of the stuff. Excited and energised at the best of times, he won’t be one for entertaining negative vibes. Pressure is for tyres, as he likes to quote his room-mate and sidekick Cian Healy, with whom he will to continue to room share rather than avail of the captain’s privilege of his own room.
In this though, he is also typical of the mood in the Ireland camp last November and now, and like his fellow Leinstermen one imagines not only was their exit from the Heineken Cup quickly dispatched, but it only served to heighten their desire for the next couple of months.
“It’s great,” he began. “It’s fantastic,” he continued. “We’re buzzing,” he added, just in case we were in any doubt. “Lads had bumps and bangs, and from a club point of view we were a bit deflated come Sunday, but everyone rowed in on Monday and just literally turned the page.
“You have these guys who haven’t played in the Six Nations tournament who have caps under their belt, and then you’ve got guys who have tasted a Grand Slam. You have guys who have a good few caps like Jonny (Sexton) or Seánie (O’Brien) but have never won anything with Ireland.
“We told them in November: ‘nothing beats winning with your country; whatever you’ve won with your club, it’s nothing like winning a Grand Slam with your country’. Those guys are hungry to do it and we’re hungry to do it again. I know I was talking about winning, and it’s like a drug at times it’s so addictive; once you get a taste of it you just want to keep getting more and more and more.”
None of this is new to Heaslip, not least since he assumed the captaincy, and shared his feelings that his first instinct was to jump across the table and hug Declan Kidney. All that’s changed since November, he joked, was that the Six Nations launch in London allowed him to spend some quality time with the coach, who looked suitably embarrassed.
“It’s an exciting mix,” Heaslip ventured of the centurions, half-centurions and relative newcomers. “You asked about what Simon Zebo is bringing and I kept laughing: he’s bringing new dance moves! It’s great having all of these guys full of energy. They are wet behind the ears a little bit but they are quite professional at the same time. They just want to give things a go. We all know about Zeebs and his talent and his speed but he works hard every day like everyone else. We all learn off each other, and Zeebs entertains us with his dancing and his rapping.”
Almost as big a boon as having newer players like Zebo and Gilroy, or the great one at outside centre, is welcoming back Seán O’Brien, even if Wales have targeted him more than most in recent times.
“Seánie will bring his dynamic, ball-carrying game and his relentless work-rate throughout and you combine that with Peter’s ball-carrying and his work-rate and I think we have a back-row unit that’s pretty mobile and can get through a lot of work.”
The composition of the backrow, with Heaslip also flanked by the all-carrying of Peter O’Mahony, suggests Ireland are going to be quite direct, at least initially.
“The way that Ireland are looking to play, we’ll be direct when we have to be but we also want to be expansive and be able to attack space no matter where it is. With that kind of back row, that can carry pretty well and that’s pretty comfortable sitting in a backline, no matter who it is, we’re in a very good place.
“The backrow’s a good unit and if Chris (Henry) comes on, we’ve played in different combinations and everyone’s fitting in pretty well. Everyone knows what they’ve got to cover and we’re clear on what we have to do. We’re looking forward to it and I know Seánie is dying to get back in to a green jersey. He hasn’t had the chance since last June and the last time he played was in the (Hamilton) game and he’s pretty keen on doing a good job.”
Accentuating the positive, as always.