Heaslip chasing Lions for a change

Oz friends now foes as number eight gets ready for battle royal with Ospreys’ pack

Jamie Heaslip: ready for some banter when he faces Lions colleagues in the Ospreys side at the Liberty Stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Jamie Heaslip: ready for some banter when he faces Lions colleagues in the Ospreys side at the Liberty Stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Fri, Oct 11, 2013, 01:00

The Ireland-Wales opener, with its Lions fall-out, is sure to be the most eagerly anticipated of this season’s Six Nations fixtures in the Aviva.

However, there is a nice little appetiser at the Liberty Stadium tomorrow, aside from being an almighty Heineken Cup pool opener in its own right, as the Ospreys and Leinster packs go mano a mano.

Three of the Leinster pack, Cian Healy, Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip are set to renew acquaintances with Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Ian Evans and Justin Tipuric, not to mention a Lion of 2005 and 2009, Ryan Jones.

Oz Odyssey
Nine Lions forwards on offer then, yet curiously,with Brian O’Driscoll all but ruled out by Jonno Gibbes yesterday with still no clear indication as to the extent of his calf injury or when he is likely to return, and Johnny Sexton having emulated the Ospreys’ one-time list of galacticos in moving on to the Top 14, none of the backs were involved in last summer’s Oz Odyssey.

Unlike the drawn League game at the RDS four weeks ago, when the trio of Irish Lions forwards were still inching their way back toward their seasonal re-appearances, the Ospreys’ contingent of Lions were involved off the bench. This will be different.

“It adds a bit more banter, I suppose, at the bottom of a ruck,” admitted a smiling Heaslip yesterday.

“I didn’t play in the Ospreys (Pro12) game but I was “waterboying” the life out of it on the sideline and got chatting away to a couple of them and they were in good form. I was slightly jealous that I wasn’t back playing and they were.

“But I suppose you learn little things about how they go about their business. You always learn more playing with a guy than playing against him. So you pick up a couple of things of how they go about their business.

“I respected “Tips” (Tipuric) a lot before from having played against him but even more so after playing with him. The guy is an absolute workhorse and he’s a nightmare around the breakdown.

“He’s great when he’s on your team. But he’s going to be a massive challenge for us, as well as the rest of them. But you just learn a lot more about players, and you get a lot more respect for them.”

Last season’s failure to qualify for the knock-out stages, when losing back-to-back games against Clermont left Leinster “chasing our tails” and remains a sore point, and also “made us realise that we couldn’t afford teams easy outs and opportunities.

‘We didn’t execute’
“In the away game against Clermont I remember there were a couple of times when he had lineouts in their 22 and then didn’t execute, and there were times when we could have won the game and then there were times at home when we gave them so many penalties to just pull away from us and make us chase the game.

“We realise you can’t do that in Europe. You’re at a level not far off international rugby where teams and the quality of players punish your mistakes.”

In the course of his audience with the media yesterday, Heaslip also let the cat out of the bag when revealing he had spoken with Brendan Macken “and he told me that this would be his first Heineken Cup start”.

Oops. It’s not that huge a surprise, with Lote Tuqiri aggravating his hamstring

Gibbes also confirmed Springboks outside back Zane Kirchener was “highly unlikely” to feature against the Ospreys, given his light workload since his recent arrival from the Rugby Championship.

Even Joe Schmidt would not have universally adored by every single member of the Leinster squad – no coach is anywhere – and Macken has shown distinct signs of improvement.

Injuries are “part and parcel” of professional rugby, said Heaslip, adding: “The one thing we’ve learned is they put more pressure on people by being ready to step up if given the chance and knowing their job.”

The one other selection dilemma facing Matt O’Connor was whether to retain Ian Madigan or recall their summer signing from Newcastle, Jimmy Gopperth.

Now under acutely more pressure for results, the new Leinster coach may well be of a mind to opt for the more experienced out-half.
LEINSTER (possible): Rob Kearney; McFadden, Macken, D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Gopperth, Reddan; Healy, Cronin, Ross, Toner, McCarthy, McLaughlin, O’Brien, Heaslip.