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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Heaslip set to do battle with Conan the Destroyer

Jack Conan before last week's Pro12 clash against Glasgow
Jack Conan before last week's Pro12 clash against Glasgow

For some time now, Jamie Heaslip has been seen as the hit, drop and ruck number eight of Irish rugby.

The decorated veteran has been lauded for his consistency, durability and professionalism as a man immovable from Leinster and Ireland.

Heaslip sacrifices for the greater good. He did it for Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris. He does it for O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony.

He carries out the unglamorous work, hitting rucks, covering holes and cleaning up after others.

One of his greatest strengths is that he doesn't make mistakes; one of his few weaknesses that he doesn't take risks.

It will be fascinating to see how Heaslip embraces the new love of offloading and stretching the width of Leinster's strategies rather than his tendency to hit the deck for the purpose of recycling.

At last, Heaslip, 31, has a rival in Jack Conan, young at 23, gifted as a natural number eight and improving quickly.

"I think we're definitely playing a better brand of rugby this year," remarked Conan (above).

"For me, I think I've got more opportunity to get my hands on the ball in wider channels and take on outside backs which is where you're trying to make easy yards against someone who might be smaller than you."

The signs have been promising, exciting even as ball movement and mismtaches have been the order of the evenings at The RDS.

"It hasn't been seamless and it's going to take time to get used to because it is completely different to what we've played in the last year or two."

There is nothing to whet Heaslip's appetite than the prospect of a real live opponent out in UCD.

The Naas man has always responded like a champion to any challenge thrown at him.

He even convinced Warren Gatland that he was, for the most part, superior to Toby Faletau for the 2013 British & Irish Lions.

The demise of Ireland at the World Cup could be Heaslip's final farewell to the biggest stage.

Can Conan bridge the gap to the greatness of Heaslip's consistency?

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