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Joe Schmidt explains what made Jamie Heaslip such a superb player

‘People say, ‘Jeepers, Jamie was lucky there.’ Not according to Jamie, not according to us.’

MANY OF US have tried to sum up exactly what it was that made Jamie Heaslip such a fine rugby player since he confirmed his retirement on Monday.

But there aren’t many people better placed to comment on Heaslip’s qualities than Joe Schmidt.

Joe Schmidt with Jamie Heaslip Heaslip and Schmidt share a joke. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt was Heaslip’s head coach for eight years and always looked at the Naas man as a key player in his Leinster and Ireland teams.

We could add more words here, but Schmidt’s speak most true, so we hand you over to the Ireland boss and his answer when asked what Irish rugby loses with Heaslip’s retirement.

“Inevitably there are some real pressure points in games and Jamie doesn’t really do pressure points, he does opportunities,” said Schmidt yesterday. “His outlook on how to solve problems was that ‘this is great, let’s get a solution here’.

“His calm on the pitch when you have got young players is really important and I think we’ve got Pete [O'Mahony] and CJ [Stander] starting to extend that to the likes of the Jack Conans and Dan Leavys.

“Josh van der Flier has it all on is own, he is a young man, he is calm and just loves any opportunity, any challenge on the pitch. But Jamie, he sees all those things as challenges.

“He also sees the game incredibly well. I know he got World Try of the Year – if you look at that from the rear angle, he is almost last up out of a ruck on our 22, the ball goes to the edge, there is some interplay between Simon Zebo, Jared Payne, Fergus McFadden gets involved and then who’s tracking right up the pitch exactly where we need him to be? That’s him.

“He does see the game very well and he’s just had that big engine that allowed him not just see it but to put himself in a position to contribute to it and that was always crucial.

Joe Schmidt and Jamie Heaslip Schmidt and Heaslip in Leinster colours. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“He was incredibly good in the rolling maul, if he had a corner he was tough to shift. He was really good at leading the scrum and I know leading the scrum when you are the back of it doesn’t quite make sense but for us, it’s still a really important position.

“There was just those aspects to his game. He would jump for us at the front of the lineout quite often and again was very skillful there, very reliable handling-wise.

“That ability across the full spectrum of what’s required in a player… his decision-making in defence. You’ve got youngsters seeing the game late and then making the decision to catch up.

“Jamie would see the game and he could kind of predict well enough what would happen next so that he could get in a position to contribute either side of the ball whether it’s scoring that try or getting back and making that tackle on Stuart Hogg [in 2015].

“He had a habit. People say, ‘jeepers, Jamie was lucky there.’ Not according to Jamie, not according to us because you get lucky sometimes – he managed to have a knack of it.

“That probably becomes an ability to read the game more than luck.”

Schmidt also referenced the former Leinster man’s incredible durability over the course of his playing days until this career-ending injury.

“I guess I’ve ended up coaching Jamie – unfortunately for Jamie – for over half his professional career, so he’s had to have me chipping away at him. I think the best thing about Jamie is that he chipped away at himself, he chiselled himself, he made himself into one of the best players that I think exists in world rugby.

Joe Schmidt with Jamie Heaslip Schmidt always picked Heaslip. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Against Scotland in the Six Nations win on Super Sunday [in 2015], his tackle on Stuart Hogg – we don’t win the Six Nations without moments like that, where he doesn’t give anything up.

“He’s always been in the leadership group, in Leinster as well, captained the side a couple of times, continuously supporting Paulie when Paul O’Connell was captain, supported Rory Best equally.

“It was great because he was so often an 80-minute player. I think in 95 Test matches, 72 of them were 80 minutes. That is massive in the modern day.

“It was great to have that security. The hooker might often come out after 60 minutes and Jamie was there in those last quarters, those last quarters that probably haven’t been nailed on, Jamie would boss those last quarters and do a good job of it.

“For all sorts of reasons, I think he’s a loss to Irish rugby. I know Jamie, he prepares incredibly well so I’ve no doubt he will make a success of another career beyond his rugby one.”

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Murray Kinsella

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