Saturday 18 November 2017

Heaslip: It’s all about making Wales think

Ireland No 8 is well versed in back-row black arts and ready to shake it up for Faletau

LEINSTER number eight Jamie Heaslip has seen it all and done it all – well, almost – in his 43-cap, six-year Ireland career.

The Grand Slam and the Triple Crowns, the PRO12 League, formerly known as the Magners, and the Heineken Cups have all been won. The medals are all somewhere at home.

Twenty-eight-year-old Heaslip is not the type of character to take them out and shine them until he can see his face in them. He doesn’t have time to dwell on what has been done when there is still so much more to do.

This son of an Army man is all about The Big ‘W’ because, in his opinion, second-place is nowhere. “I’ve always said, you know, ‘I don’t really give a damn as long as we’re winning’. I am a man who loves to win.

“You can never sit on your laurels. If you stay the same player, people will always know what to expect. You have to change it up,” he said as a Guinness Rugby Ambassador for their ‘Made of More’ campaign in London.

“With that, you’ve got to adapt to the people around you as well. There are always people coming and going for club and country. You have to adjust accordingly and bring your own game as well. It can be tricky.”

While Heaslip was, arguably, not the leading man Ireland expected at the World Cup in New Zealand, he has returned to form with a bang in the blue of Leinster.

He is determined to take that into the green of Ireland. The Six Nations campaign will start against their 2012 RWC nemesis Wales at The Aviva Stadium on Sunday week where a good start will certainly be more than one-fifth of the war that has to be waged over six weeks.

“A great phrase Alan Gaffney gave us a few years back was, ‘You can’t win a Six Nations on day one, but you can definitely lose it,’” offered Heaslip.

“That is what this competition is like. You can’t afford to make enough mistakes that cost you a game.

“You’ve got to focus on what is right in front of you. It is a cliché. But, you do have to take it game-by-game.

“It is not like the European Cup. It is not like the PRO12. You can’t afford to lose a game here and there. There are no second chances.”

Wales number eight Toby Faletau is where Heaslip was not so long ago, as the ‘talking player’ of European rugby, the coming force in his position, already earmarked as British & Irish Lions material.

Doubtless, Heaslip will have something to say about that as the reigning Lions number eight from the heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to South Africa in 2009.

“He is one of their main ball carriers. We are going to have to stop him and their other carriers from getting momentum,” remarked Heaslip.

“We are going to have to give him a bit of extra attention. But, you can’t focus too much on one guy because that allows other guys to get the space to do damage.”

There is also one main difference between the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Six Nations. In the blink of an eye, Faletau has moved from a rookie international to a marked man.

It is the equivalent of having to overcome the trials of ‘Second Season Syndrome’ within the relatively modest space of four months.

“That is where you adapt and expand your game from just being a carrier, even though go-forward ball is so important to any team’s game plan,” chuckled Heaslip.

“There are black arts in the back row. Right! I’m telling you and I can’t give away the secrets. I like to think there is a lot more to my game, you know.

“It is the same with the scrum. I don’t care how Mike Ross gets the right hand of the scrum up, but he will probably give me a book, chapter and verse, on how he does it. I don’t necessarily want to know how he does it. I just want him to do it.

“I could give you an education at what is or should be happening at the ruck or on lines of running or offloading.

“There is a lot of stuff that goes unseen.

“You’ve got to be able to think through the game. You can’t just carry all day. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and do things you don’t really want to do. This is where work ethic comes into it.

“There is a lot of stuff, the details, that create space or that half-a-second for someone else to get a try or you do a job that, two or three phases down the line, ends in points.

“Those small details are not always picked up. That happens. Talk to the front row about the scrums. I am sure there is a plethora of detail on those things.

“Take the last game Seánie (O’Brien), Fez (Stephen Ferris) and myself played. Okay, we lost and we probably didn’t play as well as we have in the past, but, I like to think I can carry the ball and Fez can and Seán can.

“It is great to spread the work that way. For the team to win, everyone has to buy into what we are trying to do, share the workload. In essence, it is great to have carriers. That takes care of itself. It is about getting through the rest of the work.

“There are structures and strategies. But, there is also the understanding that comes from time together on the pitch, getting to know other players, what they like to do, where they like to go.

“I would always know if Seán is around me when I am running with the ball and I will definitely look for the offload. That is the way the two of us play the game.

“As an example, take the Cardiff game in the PRO12 for the exchange between Seánie and me for that try a few weeks back. We understand each other as rugby players.

“I gave out to him when (Leigh) Halfpenny nearly dragged him down. I said, ‘Jeez, I thought you were the Tullow Tank, man!’”

Ireland will have to stop Faletau and Wales to make the winning start that will keep alive the ambition for a second Grand Slam in four years. Wales won the tactical battle in New Zealand.

Ireland have to have a Plan-B this time?

“Yeah!” responds Heaslip, with a smile that suggests it is already in place.

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