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'The more often you play them, the more you realise they're just 15 blokes as well'

Jamie Heaslip looks back at the highs and lows of playing the All Blacks.

LOOK BACK ON Jamie Heaslip’s nine appearances against the All Blacks, and two moments stand out. One is the low point of his 95-cap international career, the other the ultimate high. He has mixed memories, to say the least.

From being sent-off against New Zealand in New Plymouth in 2010, to eventually breaking the duck and helping Ireland to a famous victory over Steve Hansen’s side in Chicago in 2016, Heaslip has been through it all against the Kiwis. 

In a rare flash of irresponsible indiscipline, former Ireland number eight Heaslip became just the second Irish player to be sent-off in a Test match — Willie Duggan in 1977 was the first — after kneeing the All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, forcing Ireland to play with 14 men for 65 minutes of the game as they ultimately slumped to a then-record 66-28 defeat.

The Leinster back row was a the centre of an intense New Zealand media storm and after a disciplinary hearing, was handed a five-week ban for his actions, so naturally, it was one of the low points of his career — but what happened in 2016 surpassed all else.

“One of the biggest highlights for me was that Chicago game as it had eluded me for 11 years,” he told The42 this week.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

For Heaslip, World Cup quarter-final week brings up painful memories of 2011 and 2015, when he was involved in the defeats to Wales and Argentina which saw Ireland exit at the last eight stage.

Four years ago in Cardiff, Heaslip captained Ireland as Joe Schmidt’s side suffered that damaging defeat to the Pumas. 

“One side of it, when you look at the game as a whole, you’re proud of the players in terms of how we pulled ourselves back into that game after going three scores behind,” he recalls.

“And we were actually really in contention and then we make a mistake and they punish us. I’m proud of that effort from the guys but then obviously the outcome is gut-wrenching because the way it was. I think we flew home the next day and the same in New Zealand, which probably hurt even more.

“In England in 2015, they [Argentina] exploited a weakness in our defensive system. That up and out defensive system which we were still applying. They exploited that, moved the ball to the edge and that was the competitive advantage that we just didn’t react to.

“They were making 10/15 metres most times on the edge and catching us out. 2011, it was actually harder to take. You look at the game and we dropped the ball over the line twice and two system errors defensively and they scored two tries, which normally we wouldn’t give up.

“That team in 2011 was one hell of a team and that was probably tougher because, in a way, we lost it while in 2015 it was probably fair to say we were beaten by the better side on the way.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

“When the lads fast forward to now, and I think Johnny mentioned it after the Japan game, they got a taste of losing in the World Cup and it wasn’t good. It never is, and they don’t want to taste that again.

“The guys aren’t just here to win a quarter-final and then lose a semi. They’re here to go the distance. They might not shout about it too much. That’s the goal, but they won’t shout about it.”

On Ireland’s prospects on Saturday, Heaslip added: “The more often you play the All Blacks, the more you realise they’re just 15 blokes as well. 

“It’s a huge opportunity, and a really exciting time. I’d say they have a quiet confidence in the team’s ability, knowing they’ve beaten two out of the last three times they’ve played them. And, on the day in knockout rugby, it’s anyone’s. 

“I cannot wait. It would be so good if they win, like so good. I’d love it for them, I’d love it. They’ve come under heavy criticism which I think is unfair and I would love it for them to do it.”

You can listen to the full podcast interview with Jamie Heaslip on Rugby Weekly Extra, which is available to The42 members here.

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