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Heaslip: In-form Doris is the best number eight in Ireland

The former Ireland international also explained how he feels the demands of a back row player is changing.

Caelan Doris during an Ireland squad training session in Portugal.
Caelan Doris during an Ireland squad training session in Portugal.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

FORMER IRELAND INTERNATIONAL Jamie Heaslip has backed Caelan Doris to make the step up to Test rugby, describing the 21-year-old as ‘the best number eight in Ireland.’ 

Doris will win his first cap for Ireland this Saturday having been named in the team to face Scotland by new head coach Andy Farrell.

And while his selection represents a massive show of faith in the player from Farrell, former Ireland number eight Heaslip believes his inclusion is fully warranted. 

“I don’t think it’s a big step. He is more than capable of playing international rugby,” Heaslip said.

“In a metaphorical sense, yes, club rugby to international rugby [is a big step]. For the standard and level that he is playing at and capable of, I think he will take it in his stride. 

“I would definitely have him there. I think he’s the best number eight in Ireland right now. He’s probably the form back row in Ireland right now.

“I think he has a great ability to play both sides of the ball, and be able to play both sides of the ball well and do a lot on both sides. I think his mindset and, let’s call it his grunt, that relentless nature to keep showing up and coming back, and doing it as consistently as he is, is what is getting him the starting spot this weekend. But again, with that comes a lot of pressure.


“It’s international footy now, so the room for error is that bit smaller than European rugby, you can argue that no team has challenged Leinster, so the room for error of what he is used to this season, versus what is coming down the line with international rugby, will be bigger. He’s got to react to that. And let’s see. But you don’t know until you give the kid a go. It’s great to see that he’s got the nod and I’m excited to see him.

“I think he has the potential to be around for a very, very long time. But he’s got heat. I’m very surprised that Max Deegan or Jack O’Donoghue didn’t get the nod on the bench, but credit where credit is due, Pete [O'Mahony] has shown enough over the last couple of years to warrant that. But he’s under pressure now, Caelan is under pressure now, CJ [Stander] is under pressure, Josh [van der Flier] as well, and we’re not even getting into the conversation of Jack Conan coming back, Dan Leavy coming back, someone like Scott Penny coming up through the system as well. It’s a good position to be in.”

Doris’ selection is part of a number of changes to an Ireland starting team that had become increasingly predictable under Joe Schmidt.


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During a disappointing 2019 campaign, Ireland’s back row came in for criticism for failing to make to desired impact in big games. 

Heaslip, who won 95 caps for Ireland before his retirement in 2018, says that the requirements of a back row is changing as the game evolves.

“The game is getting faster, the game is getting quicker. I don’t think the volume of distance [a player covers] is changing a whole lot. The percentage of high speed running is changing in the game and the ball is in play longer nowadays,” Heaslip continued. 

“You need players that are able to go the distance and play at speed, take the contacts and get back up and go again. You need players that are multi-faceted as well. The times of a guy being good on one side of the ball, and good at only doing one thing on one side of the ball, there’s not a whole lot of those days left for players.

“That’s where some players are potentially feeling the pressure come on because you have a crop of players coming through who can do many things. That means you’ve got to do that one thing unbelievably well because there’s someone who can do that and other [things]. It’s a good headache for coaches. 

“It’s going to be interesting to see the evolution in the style of play. Joe has laid a really good foundation for this team. It would be really interesting to see what layer Andy and his coaching staff put on top.”

Jamie Heaslip was speaking at the launch of the Aviva Sensory Hub, Aviva’s latest initiative to make Aviva Stadium a more inclusive space. For more information  follow Aviva on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using #SafeToDream or  visit www.aviva.ie/sensoryhub

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