Jamie Heaslip back in harness and rarin’ to go for Leinster against Castres

Durable Irish number eight’s fitness record phenomenal in modern day rugby

It drew a self-conscious grin from Jamie Heaslip. The Leinster player, who rarely gets injured, sat beside his coach Mat O'Connor and had the good grace to shift in his chair as the praise was heaped.

O’Connor was asked for his view on whether a specimen like Heaslip will be a rarity in 20 years time as rugby bodies become bigger, collide harder and appear to break up more frequently.

The Leinster number eight has weathered a recent shoulder injury and will play on Saturday. But he is rarely out injured and his spell on the sideline has been an eye-opening voyage of discovery into the suites of Leinster doctors and physiotherapists.

“There’s always going to be special athletes and freaks like Jamie. There are just not enough of them,” said O’Connor as Heaslip pulled down on the peak of his cap.


“Playing every week is one thing. In my time here, that AC (shoulder) injury is the first time he’s missed a training session and you very rarely get that in the game.

Few sessions

“It’s unbelievable. The amount of guys that have to be managed throughout the training week, that have to be sat out for bits and pieces, or not train because of any number of issues is very high. Jamie misses very few sessions and very few games.”

Part of Heaslip’s pragmatic methodology is that he treats his body like a machine. He puts in and takes out and keeps it serviced by the best mechanics in the business. He is diligent and disciplined; a part of his character he thinks may be drawn from living around army bases when he was younger.

Israel-born, his memory of life in Croatia and Cyprus with his military father is of a regimented lifestyle governed by the repetitive rhythms of an army base

With time on his hands he became an avid comic reader, which along with his capacity to stay healthy has earned him the nickname Wolverine, a fictional hero from the X-Men series of Marvel comics, who instantly regenerates.

“My house was run like an army base because of my dad. It is probably why I went off and got my tongue pierced the first chance I got,” he says.

“In terms of living with my father, obviously, he is quite a regimented man and set in his ways. That house probably imposed, or passed down, a lot of those traits onto me. I’m very much a man for routine about certain things.”

For a certain time of his life it was less colourful than routine and while life on a military compound had the capacity to enthral and impress young eyes, Magneto and Storm rather than F16s was what drew him away from what was largely a solitary lifestyle of adults.

“I only lived on two army bases really,” he says.

"I lived in Nicosia on the UN Army base on the border which was an interesting one because you had, literally, a minefield on one side on the Turkish border with them pointing guns at you and then the Greeks on the other side. That was an interesting one. It was mainly run by the Americans and that's where I picked up my love of the comics.

"I was in Zagreb for about nine months. We were the Irish representatives of Nato there. That is why, when you're on your own and you're living with your parents, you do whatever you can to keep yourself occupied."

Uncanny knack

Castres now provide preoccupation, although, Heaslip is determined to keep his health under control and maintain the uncanny knack of staying away from the sort of injuries that have ripped through the Leinster squad.

Just imagine what Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy and perhaps most of all, Luke Fitzgerald, would do for a few base pairs of the Heaslip genetic code. Bernard Jackman, Ricardt Strauss even Brian O'Driscoll . . .a very extensive list.

When he went to the hospital recently to have his injured shoulder evaluated, the medical team had to go back five years to find the previous scans that had been taken. O’Connor probably chose the right word. Freak.

“I got a bit of a kick when I had to get my scans because they had to look back to 2010 for my last scan from the hospital,” he says. “I think the doctor got a bit of a giggle out of that one because all of my injuries are on one sheet, whereas most of the lads have a couple of sheets of stuff. I like to keep it all on one sheet, so we’ll see how it goes.”

They all know, even Wolverine, that the career ending injury may lurk around the corner. But the now is good for Heaslip. And that means Leinster too.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times