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Squad mentality driving Heaslip to stop Ulster 'juggernaut'

Despite his try-scoring drought and the intense competition for back row places, Jamie Heaslip always seems to come out on top.

Rugby fans can get all the latest news updates from Jamie Heaslip ahead of Leinster’s massive clash with Ulster this weekend on the Guinness Rugby Supporters Facebook page www.Facebook.com/GuinnessRugbyIreland.
Rugby fans can get all the latest news updates from Jamie Heaslip ahead of Leinster’s massive clash with Ulster this weekend on the Guinness Rugby Supporters Facebook page www.Facebook.com/GuinnessRugbyIreland.
Image: Guinness

WOULD YOU BELIEVE that it has been almost 13 months since Jamie Heaslip last scored a try?

Although Leinster have been on the front foot for the vast majority of the season the number eight, the position that usually profits from a dominant pack, has not crossed over.

Speaking to TheScore.ie, Heaslip insists it does not bother him:

“I’ve come close a couple of times, I haven’t managed to go over.” He replied.

However, when we mistakenly mentioned his last score had come in the Heineken Cup quarter final, he quickly interjected,

“Eh, that was a semi-final, but don’t worry… No, as long as we’re scoring tries and winning I couldn’t care who scores them.”

That’s 27 games this season and 31 in total since he planted on the line against Toulouse without anyone (bar the TMO) noticing. Of course, he could have had one or two since then. Occasions when a more selfish, less skillful ball-carrier could have bulldozed rather than pass wide to a teammate with a clear run to the line.

Despite his protestations, you still sense he would dearly love a score to call his own. But the collective is everything to Leinster.

Criminal

There was a time when ’15’ was a number to signify unity in rugby. That soon widened to 22 and 23, but Leinster under Joe Schmidt have consistently spoken in terms of ’35 – 40’; a squad to compete and win on two fronts. While Heaslip and his peers are called off to play for Ireland twice within a season, those left behind to stew are thriving and the competition for first team places grows ever more intense.

“The work done by the lads when we’re away during the internationals is criminal and when we get back Joe rotates the squad as he sees fit. He makes sure that everyone’s fresh come the business end of the season and everyone’s putting their hand up to start in the big games.”

With the consistent powers of Kevin McLoughlin, the experience of Shane Jennings and Sean O’Brien just being Sean O’Brien, the back row is a seemingly endless joust for position. But one man always comes out on top, immovable from that number eight jersey no matter what the opposition. On this subject, Heaslip directs us to Schmidt for the answer and lists off the men who push him every day.

“Leo Auva’a puts me under a lot of pressure, quality player. Rudds (Rhys Ruddock) has stepped in a couple of times this year at eight, so has Kev actually, and Seanie once or twice. So there’s a lot of guys who have played in there – there’s a lot of pressure in the back-row like the whole squad.

“But like I said there’s a really good atmosphere. No guys are trying to do eachother over or anything like that, we’re all rowing towards the same direction. All pushing to really get the best out of eachother. If guys aren’t making the 23 they are straight on to make sure they rep(licate) the opposition that week really well so that the team are prepared as best they can be.”

At 28 Heaslip is enjoying his rugby and all that surrounds it. He has taken an interest in the restaurant business and has embraced Twitter like few other public figures. It must be said that this interview was conducted on his day off last week to allow him fully concentrate on meeting and beating Glasgow Warriors on Saturday. Shortly after hanging up the phone, he tweeted.

It’s no wonder he was sounding so comfortable and energised.

On his day off today, he will ponder the 80 minutes that lie ahead. Aside from the obvious prize, his energy and motivation this weekend will stem from the final being an Irish derby. His direct opponents are only too familiar. Chris Henry and Stephen Ferris will have ran into him in both training and competitive action already, and could flank him on the tour to New Zealand this summer.

No matter how much the provinces will speak of ‘bread and butter’, the Pro12 is just a proving ground for the stage they will take on Saturday. As Brian McLaughlin also pointed out yesterday, though these sides have played twice already this season and last, they are yet to meet one another at full strength. Heaslip insists he is “not wary” of the northern province, but he is in no doubt of the challenge this Ulster side present having risen from nearly men in the group to the European Cup final.

Juggernaut

“The job that David Humphreys and Brian McLaughlin has done in the last couple of years in moulding that team; their ethos, culture the way they play and conduct themselves on and off the field is testament to them. You can see; they were competitive last year and they’ve brought it another couple of steps this year. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be a tough team to stop, they’re a juggernaut of a team.”

With Ruan Pienaar capable of kicking goals from his own half, perhaps a try will be the only way to halt that juggernaut.

What price Heaslip?

Rugby fans can get all the latest news updates from Jamie Heaslip ahead of Leinster’s massive clash with Ulster this weekend on the Guinness Rugby Supporters Facebook page.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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