Jamie Heaslip’s head has no room for negativity
Ireland forward says Six Nations standard getting better every year and margins ever finer
“If you make a mistake, you get punished. England are probably the most clinical side,” says Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Personnel success, team success, success in the tackle and the process, and on the list goes. Success against Scotland now represents another opportunity for the most important aspect of its meaning, the Ireland team.
But searching for success in any of its forms if Ireland lose may be a difficult proposition even coming from the learn-and-move-on school of thought.
Success against an improving Scotland, who have not won in Dublin since Croke Park in 2010, has become a prerequisite for taking positive thoughts from the last weekend of the competition with just a summer tour to South Africa to whet international appetites.
It’s a motivating factor. But Heaslip, who has seen many campaigns as his cap tally reaches the mid-80 mark, won’t be dragged down by zealously revisiting missed opportunities.
“For me, it is ‘right, this is my jersey for the day.’ I have got to do it right,” he says. “So yes, you might say, ‘we’re not happy for the fact we are not playing for it [the championship]. But you know, you have got to park that. We will come back after the competition and look at the bigger picture. Coaches can definitely look back, but right now we are thinking week to week.”
“It is not a case of – right, we can’t win it – so we go, ‘right, I’m done’,” he adds. “We still have the chance to play at home, in front of a full crowd, wearing the jersey.”
A personal experience most will never get to enjoy. In rugby now every match, because of its physical dimensions, the potential for danger and the kudos attached to winning, has become a prize fight.
Scotland coming to Aviva with coach Vern Cotter, Joe Schmidt’s old boss in France, expecting his team to move up another level, conditions Heaslip to stay focused on the task.
Scotland are a challenge. And there is always honour at stake.
“I love it,” he says. “A particular moment: when I come into the dressing room and John has all the jerseys facing you with all the numbers facing towards you. And I always love, when I turn the jersey around, seeing a number in a particular corner.
“But I think we’ve won this competition by the same margin [in previous years] as we’ve lost it by this year. It’s very fine margins, and I think just shows players those fine margins.”
As a tournament he sees it evolving with better players doing more things on the pitch at a faster tempo. Prior to the last round it had been criticised for the lack of tries scored by the teams, but Heaslip particularly and Ireland in general managed to push that average up against Italy.
The competition is a product, he says – and many who look in on the Super Rugby or Rugby Championship might disagree – that has delivered over the years for the game.
“I think what you are seeing is the game constantly keeping itself in check,” he explains. “Granted, England have won it, but I think there hasn’t been much in a lot of the games. I know England have the four out of four wins and are going for the Grand Slam, but not all those games have been easy.
“I think it just shows the level of opportunity. If you make a mistake, you get punished. England are probably the most clinical side. It just highlights that. But I think the standard is getting better and better every year.
“The ball is staying in play more. Definitely this Six Nations was a lot faster with a lot more ball in play. From the numbers, it looks like there was a lot more high-speed metres, so it’s a faster game.”
Never the case on the pitch, off it he can sound removed and dispassionate. Maybe the word is professional. Correcting wrongs or outshining others on his team or the opposition, is for some players a motivational factor. But for Heaslip thinking that way is almost a distraction.
“This may sound weird,” he says in way of explaining that the process is king. “But I wouldn’t be too worried about the outcome. It is pretty intangible in my head.”