Jamie Heaslip shrugs off Kiwis’ barrage and braces for Wallabies clash

Ireland’s number eight ain’t complaining about bruising match against All Blacks

"Yeah, playing against New Zealand. It is intense. That's international rugby, lads," says Jamie Heaslip in a you-should-know-that-by-now sort of way.

The two-hander between the Irish number eight and manager Mick Kearney pitched and rolled and each step of the way the two kept to their scripts on the Kiwi tackling capers, Kearney disappointed and questioning, Heaslip unflinching and sassy.

Kearney was the calm, understated rebuke to the tactics employed by New Zealand that knocked Robbie Henshaw out cold and were inches away from Simon Zebo being clotheslined onto the stretcher and into serious injury.

Kearney spoke about laws and World Rugby edicts on tackles to the neck and head, Heaslip, somewhat eloquently, about the privilege of sacrifice, about his role as a rugby player, undaunted, stoic and proud about what it is he does.


The Irish number eight, today also a little chippy and defensive, but honest, is adept at bottom-line conversations. Players simply don’t complain about the violent truths of the game.

There is, he suggests, almost a pointlessness in bringing up the issue now, as if it were some sort of epiphany revealed for the first time last Saturday in the Aviva Stadium. A cowboy complaining of being saddle-sore – what are the chances and what is the point?

“I am not concerned at all. You enter the game knowing there is a risk. It’s a physical game, you know,” he says.

Dead legs

"A lot of games, people get banged up – dead legs, tears, shoulders, knee, ankle. It's a contact sport, people get hurt.

"They're physical games. I'm not going to hide the fact that it's a physical sport. You're running into someone! Physics dictate there's going to be impact, there's going to be force and sometimes lads get banged up.

“Sometimes someone gets a shot in the head. A lad falls on you. You get a knee in the head. All sorts of things can happen, you know what I mean.”

Hold off on the violins and the hankies. Call a halt to the finger-wagging and the pouts. In the world of grunt, public expressions of concern pave the way to Loserville or at best the possibility of a soft middle.

Measured and careful not to make accusations, Kearney counterpoints Heaslip’s “front.” The citing officer, who the manager spoke to, has 12 issues to deal with, 11 of them revolving around New Zealand’s play.

The All Blacks, they were terrifically, especially, brutally, super-physical all the same, were they not, Jamie?

"That's for you guys to talk about," he says. "For us, really, man, there's no point looking back. The game is over. They won. We got Australia now."

Wither grass

Australia and Michael Cheika. Always a calling card that spices up a growing festive mood, the former Leinster coach can wither the grass with his comments.

The Irish players know that he started the process of growing Leinster a backbone and layered the club with a tougher ethos and a set of standards.

They more admired Cheika than liked his effective, bellyaching style. But Australia arrive in Ireland, probably intent on being as confrontational as New Zealand and also believing they can bring their winning streak to four.

It is there, on Irish strengths and the growing discipline in the team, that Kearney and Heaslip collide as one voice.

“We’ve had eight penalties in total against New Zealand. That is an unbelievable stat to have,” says the number eight. “It means you don’t give easy access points or easy points.

“That’s why we put such an emphasis on it. It’s about detail and it could be as simple as not being late for a meeting. It could be the discipline to do that. Those small things have a knock-on effect.”

Smell the vapours

But a week is a long time in rugby, he says. For Cheika six years is an even longer time away from Leinster and the Irish scene. He may know some of the names but at his current distance in the Wallaby camp, he can only smell the vapours.

“Oh, from Cheiks? Em, I don’t know,” says Heaslip. “He wouldn’t hands-on know as many players as he would have in the past from his tenure here in Leinster.

“A victory would be great for the squad because it’s a young squad – and I include myself in that!” adds the December birthday boy, who will soon be 33 and playing better than when he was 23.

The Irish scrum could be a platform there. The Aussies creaked and groaned against France. That would be sweet.

“As a number eight you’d love that,” he says. “Just hold on to the back of the scrum all day and let the lads do their thing up front.”

The look in his eye, though. It says that’s never going to happen.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times