Losses cut deeper as skipper - Heaslip
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip with head coach Declan Kidney and assistant coach Anthony Foley at the Millennium Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Rugby:Jamie Heaslip is satisfied with his form and leadership but admits to taking Ireland’s defeats more personally now that he is captain. The number eight has endured a challenging first Six Nations in charge after replacing Leinster colleague Brian O’Driscoll as skipper before the championship.
Defeats to England and Scotland have meant toppling France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday is essential to escape a likely wooden-spoon showdown with Italy a week later.
Heaslip’s own performances have been criticised, as has the rudderless look to Ireland during spells of the Six Nations, but the 29-year-old insists results cut more deeply than any vilification from outside the camp.
“In 2008 I stopped listening to or reading the rugby side of sport and I can’t wait to start again when I finish rugby. But when I’m playing I don’t pay attention to it,” he said.
“The captaincy has been great, I’ve loved it. You obviously have to do more of the media and you do feel more responsible for the team.
“When you come off the field as a player you analyse your own game, but as a captain you feel more responsible for the team.
“When I came off the pitch against Scotland I was quite happy with the way I played, with my carries and getting through quite a bit of work.
“But then as a team I’m disappointed that we lost, so it’s a weird one. You have to think about the others.
“I never like to lose, but you do take the defeats a lot more personally when you’re captain.
“It weighs on your shoulders more because you feel that little bit more responsible.”
Heaslip’s ascendancy to the role as captain has coincided with a horrendous succession of injuries. The latest players to have been added to a vast and ever-changing list is wing Craig Gilroy, who misses out against France with a groin strain, and outhalf Paddy Jackson.
A decision on Jackson’s involvement will be made tomorrow once he has run and kicked on the minor hamstring strain incurred during training on Monday, with Ian Madigan on standby to make his debut if he fails to recover.
For all the constant changes in personnel and loss of key players - among them Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D’Arcy and Jonathan Sexton - Heaslip insists it is Ireland’s performances on the pitch that have been their real undoing.
“We’ve grown quite used to disruptions because we’ve had quite a lot in this campaign, stuff that is part and parcel of rugby - it’s a physical game,” he said.
“You get on with it, there’s nothing you can do and there’s no point lingering on it. That’s what we’ve been doing throughout this Six Nations.
“Injuries don’t help, but we can’t blame injuries for the Scotland game. We had three really good try-scoring opportunities that we just didn’t execute on.
“Despite all our mistakes against England, we still brought it back to 6-6 only to gift them two easy penalties to win the game. I can’t blame that on injuries.
“It’s been more about our accuracy. Against Wales we were on the money in terms of delivering at key moments and that’s what we need this weekend.”
Winless France were the pre-tournament favourites, yet find themselves in the startling position of playing to avoid a first whitewash since 1957 and first wooden spoon since 1999.
Ireland’s record against their most infuriating foe consists of a solitary victory in their last 13 meetings - the Grand Slam-winning year of 2009 - in a sequence dating back to 2003.
“France are a big task. They haven’t had any wins, but they’re quite capable of playing to a top standard,” Heaslip said.
“They reached the final of the 2011 World Cup and no team does that by being lucky. It shows their class and we face a massive challenge.”