Jamie Heaslip believes Argentina tour has been a valuable exercise in squad building
It’s been an intense week but the Ireland number eight wouldn’t have it any other way
Jamie Heaslip enjoys the Buenos Aires skyline during Ireland’s tour of Argentina.
In part due to there being three internal flights due to the toing and froing between Buenos Aires, Corrientes, Buenos Aires again and Tucumán, yesterday was the squad’s first down day since their arrival.
This has been far from an end-of-season jolly, not that it ever could be under the demanding watchful eye of Joe Schmidt. First and foremost, and lastly, this has been a rugby tour, from which the management will have derived a huge amount of information and knowledge about the 29 players at their disposal.
“It’s been intense,” admits Jamie Heaslip. “Obviously we rolled out off the back of a pretty intense week and all the things that come with touring, travelling and staying in hotels.
“I was asked if I’ve seen anything and I’ve seen the hotel room, the training ground, hotel lobbies, which is a bit of a regret because we’re in such a unique country. But I’m lucky that I’ve been here before on rugby tours so, while I’m sure it’s changed since I was last here in 2007, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster coming on from previous intense weeks into this, where as soon as you arrive in camp it’s intense.”
Bubbly selfIn contrast to his usually bubbly self, not least after his last outing in front of the media as captain of the Leinster side which beat Glasgow at the RDS last Saturday week, an early breakfast media briefing clearly didn’t agree with Heaslip, who made little secret of how tired he felt.
This Saturday, he is expected to be one of a raft of Leinster players to be reinstated into the starting line-up, as his custom, rather than his unusual role of last Saturday in Corrientes, when he was earmarked for a stint as an impact replacement.
“It was the second time I’ve come off the bench for Ireland, I’ve done it a few times for Leinster. It was very different, the whole preparation was. I found it tougher to prepare coming off the bench, because I’ve done it for Leinster a good few times and found it different but not hard, but on Saturday it was different and harder coming off the bench for Ireland.”
Until last Saturday, the indestructible Heaslip had played 26 games, 18 for Leinster and eight for Ireland, and in every instance played the full 80 minutes. “It’s what I know,” he admitted. “I just found the preparation a little bit . . . I tried to prepare the same, but it was just very different. From playing those 80 minutes I know how vital a role people coming off the bench have in terms of standards and not letting that standard drop.
‘Lot of points’“I think if you look back at the Six Nations and with Leinster we scored a lot of points in the last 20 minutes of games. The Italy game in particular, our bench played a significant role in a game that determined that we won the Six Nations in the end. When I came on I tried to add to it, but I am quite used to 80 minutes.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s second Test, Heaslip pinpointed how Ireland need to counter the Pumas well-stacked and quick line speed close-in, preventing the line breaks they conceded in defence and converting a higher rate of their own breaks into scores.
“It’s just about building on it, it’s kind of like a back-to-back Heineken Cup week, when you play those games and you play very well in the first week it’s almost harder to go again the next week. But we got a good mix of patches of very good stuff, patches of stuff that’s not so good and really we’ve played better as a team, but we have very good passages to build on. They’re going to learn from their mistakes and will be confident that they can build on their line breaks as well.”
Although he hasn’t seen much of the place, Heaslip maintains this tour has been more valuable in some respects than, say, going to New Zealand. “We made eight changes from the last Test game, three guys got capped so it’s great in terms of building a squad going forward into 18 months from now. That’s a massive plus, lads getting experience at international level in places that we need. If you want a strong squad you want guys who are confident and experienced at international level, who can come off the bench at vital moments.
“We’ve played New Zealand enough in recent years, I’m actually glad we’re not there touring. Four times in three years was enough. It’s nice to be on another continent.We’re going up against decent opposition, Joe has taken the chance to freshen it up and I think we’ll benefit from it.”