O'Driscoll gives captain Heaslip his full backing
Reducing his role to something less than a leader seems strangely ill-fitting. But the former Irish captain, Brian O’Driscoll, believes the volume of critical flak landing on and around Jamie Heaslip in recent days has been totally unwarranted and his role now is to unequivocally support the current captain.
O’Driscoll, who has revised his job to that of “a senior player”, took over the Irish captaincy from Keith Wood in 2003 and held it until this season. In a straight bat defence he believes the attention Heaslip received after the disappointing performance against Scotland on Sunday was “pretty harsh” and that the number eight is “doing a good job”.
He added in a wide-ranging interview yesterday that his own presence in the Irish team may contribute to Heaslip’s pressure and that he would finally make up his mind about his own future in the game before the Lions summer tour to Australia in June.
Not clear in his mind
Any decision after the Lions’ tour would be too late as the IRFU have already asked him to discuss conditions around continuing to play next season. His thoughts on that are not yet “clear in his mind”.
The Irish centre also suggested he may not be able to call time on Ireland and continue playing with Leinster and may bring his career entirely to a close if he decides to stop competing after this season.
“No one cracks it in the first three or four games as captain,” he said. “You constantly get better the more you do it and I have absolutely no concerns about him.
“I think some of the criticism by the sounds of things is pretty harsh. I think Jamie is doing a good job.”
With poor results pressure follows and the first to feel the squeeze have been the coach and captain as leaders of the team. Heaslip was also disappointed with his own performance against England, which may have compounded the sense of building criticism.
Support of the team
O’Driscoll conceded that while it did not work out at the weekend in some choices, notably kicking to touch instead of taking early points, Heaslip continues to have the support of all the team.
“That is what Jamie did with a little bit of advice from other people that I’m sure he took on board,” said O’Driscoll. “It didn’t work out on the weekend. On another day we would have scored a driven maul. Everyone would have been slapping him on the back.
“I am certainly not going to say he is not doing a good job because he absolutely is and he has got everyone’s full backing.”
As a 24-year-old, O’Driscoll was given the captain’s role although the shadow cast by the iconic Wood, was lessened because the hooker was injured and subsequently retired when O’Driscoll was established. There wasn’t the public swapping of the arm band and shrill accusations of disrespect, but more of an orderly changing of the guard.
“Keith wasn’t playing,” he said. “Initially he was injured when I took over the captaincy so I wasn’t in the same team. The pressure from taking over from someone who was an icon in Irish rugby . . . I just realised I needed to do it my own way, I couldn’t be a copy-cat. It’s about finding your own way and Jamie is doing that.”
But because he, as an iconic centre, remains a central part of the team, the pressure on Heaslip maybe greater than if O’Driscoll were not there, as it was with Wood in 2003.
“Maybe, I don’t know, you would have to ask Jamie that and I’m not going to answer for him. I don’t know how he sees it.
“I would say it would have been more difficult for me to captain the team with Keith in it. I’ve been very open in saying that yes I was disappointed.
“But I have parked that and now I am 100 per cent able to be a senior player and be a help. It’s not about individual satisfaction or disappointment of being captain or not being captain, now it’s about trying to look at the bigger picture of the team. I’m just trying to weigh in behind Jamie.”
How long that will continue is in O’Driscoll’s hands alone. He is “generating an opinion” in his head about how much longer he has in the game but first needs more play-time.
“Nathan Hines, Ian Gough, Shawsy, Thorn, Leo – he’s about 40 isn’t he,” quips the centre. All hard men though?
“They are,” he says. “But they’re all in third gear, they don’t have to hit fifth . . .”
There will be no procrastinating until July before he makes a call, he said. There will be no mulling over it on the Lions tour.
“I don’t know if I’d be able to leave it that late,” he says. “I’d imagine I’d have to make a decision . . . if I was selected to go on that tour, I’d imagine they’d need for both the union’s and Leinster’s sake to pull the trigger a little bit before.”