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Sunday 11 December 2016

Jamie Heaslip: I take no notice of the critics

Leinster captain won't be aiming for second best

Leinster's Jamie Heaslip during a press conference at Leinster Rugby Offices, UCD, Belfield, Dublin
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip during a press conference at Leinster Rugby Offices, UCD, Belfield, Dublin

Jamie Heaslip has never settled for second best.

He is not inclined to break the habit of a sporting lifetime on Sunday.

The veteran of two British & Irish Lions tours, one won and one lost, and the winner of three Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam and two Six Nations in the last two campaigns is in it to win it.

Simple as that.

The Leinster captain did take a moment to deal with the outside chat about the position of his coach Matt O'Connor.

Leinster have not abided by the standards set down since 2009. The performances have been patchy; the results unacceptable, at times

"Speaking from personal experience, people called for my contract to be ripped up in the past as well," he said.

"I would take absolutely no notice of it. Matt's got the full support of the squad and he's done some great things over the last two seasons.

"As players, we've been pretty disappointed with some games - especially last week. That's not the standard that the group of players set for ourselves.

"Outside of that, I'm not listening."

READ MORE: Jamie Heaslip: Toulon are the Real Madrid of rugby

Leinster have enough to be getting on with in the Champions Cup semi-final as they confront the same problem they had in last year's quarter-final.

"They are the Real Madrid of rugby," said Jamie Heaslip.

"There's an excited feeling about it, going over there against a team made up of bloody superstars. The challenge that poses for us is massive and we relish it."

Toulon have dominated Europe in the last two seasons through brute force and ruthless efficiency from a band of worldwide brothers in arms.

Leinster have their own history to draw on. It is one forged out of pain and heartbreak until that watershed moment at Murrayfield in 2009.

"I don't play to come second and there's 40 odd lads down there who have the same mentality," pushed Heaslip.

"But, outcome and result comes off the back of work, of doing your job and the team making the least possible amount of mistakes which is a knock-on from doing your job and being disciplined around that.

"They're kind of the things that I would be focused on," he said.

"It helps to take away from the pressure and lets you focus on one thing, one moment at a time and, especially on an occasion like this, a semi-final with a packed house, a great occasion.

"You don't want to be swept up in that. That's where experience kicks in.

"They have plenty of that as well with God knows how many international caps they have."

This is where the heat of South Africa in 2009, Australia in 2013, The Millennium Stadium in 2009, Stade de France last year and Murrayfield this year combine to make Heaslip believe in the improbable.

He has played at the highest level and won at the highest level too. They don't always travel hand-in-hand.

The same truth applies to the evolution at Leinster from Murrayfield in 2009, Cardiff in 2011, Bordeaux and Twickenham in 2012.

"Those occasions are the days when you go back to what you know and go back to what you practice day in, day out; week-in, week-out and knowing the plays that you put together so it's automatic that you can go out and just play.

"There's no better occasion than facing the defending champions in their backyard."

The positioning of the 2015 World Cup has meant the business end of this season has been moved forward.

This hampers the preparation of Leinster's internationals as they step away from the Six Nations and back into an intensive squeezed period while Toulon mostly get on with the Top-14.

"I suppose it's not ideal preparation, but it is what it is and that's just the way it always has been," said Heaslip.

"What's changed is the fact that a semi-final is on us very, very quickly post Six Nations, which has hampered prep for both the League and this, I suppose.

"I remember someone saying to me after the Six Nations that the champions of Europe are going to be decided within six weeks, and I couldn't get my head around that."

Heaslip is a believer in hard work and the hard yards it takes to get the work done on any given Sunday.

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