Saturday 19 January 2019

Heas' ready to return

Jamie's eyeing up the Ospreys late next month

Injury absence: Jamie Heaslip hasn't played since Ireland's clash with Wales in last year's Six Nations
Injury absence: Jamie Heaslip hasn't played since Ireland's clash with Wales in last year's Six Nations

There appears to be light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for Jamie Heaslip.

The Ireland number eight has been loosely pencilled in to return to the game for Leinster's PRO14 League match away to The Ospreys on the weekend of March 23/24/25.

That would make it one year and two weeks since he last played rugby in the 2017 Six Nations defeat to Wales on March 10th.

The last time Heaslip played for Leinster was against Castres Olympique in The Champions Cup on January 20th, 2017, a fallow period of 14 months.

Heaslip has been Long admired as the 'Iron Man' of Irish rugby for always being available to play.

This is the main reason why he has been Ireland's best paid rugby player for a number of years.

In an ironic twist of fate, the first serious injury looked like being his last when he had to have a second surgery to his lower back on Wednesday, October 25.

Ankle injury

Originally, the Naas man pulled out of Ireland's denial of England's bid for back-to-back Grand Slams with what was reported to be a rolled ankle injury in the warm-up.

From there, the lack of information shared brought an air of mystery about the exact nature of his setback.

It was eventually uncovered how Heaslip underwent a microdisectomy to his lower back.

This operation is defined as "a relatively reliable surgery for immediate, or nearly immediate, relief of sciatica from a lumbar herniated disc".

The recovery period usually lasts a month, or so, and Heaslip was given the all-clear to return to pre-season.

However, he broke down within a week and had to go through a complicated process of 'trial-and-error' rehabilitation.

This went on for close to four months in which Heaslip exhausted all manner of solutions.

This is a man who always thought outside the box to find any edge possible.

He worked on the principal of prevention being better than a cure.

This included any number of pre and post-training stretching routines and scientific monitoring of his body.

"I sleep in a feckin' altitude tent in pre-season," he said in 2014.

"During pre-season, up goes the tent around the bed and I sleep in it. The whole theory of it is to 'live high, train low'. Your body gets used to living at altitude, you produce more red blood cells, you're able to carry oxygen more efficiently."

Back then, Heaslip spoke of how he had to be careful of taking preventative action against a lower back problem.

"My lower back used to get at me," he said. "I have a big curve in my lower back and it used to stiffen up quite a bit. It wouldn't take a lot for that to stiffen up.

"So, I do a lot of core for that and it hasn't happened in a few years. You assess different things along the way."

It is not clear whether Heaslip's previous problems with his lower back had anything to do with bringing on the injury or slowing the process of recovery in what has been a complex process.

At the start of November, Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey sounded optimistic that there was a way back.

Understandably, Heaslip has been precious about his medical information and about if and when he will be back in what is a last chance.

"It's baby steps," he told Luke Fitzgerald on The Left Wing Podcast last month.

"Putting one foot in front of the other and taking it week-by-week.

"You know how it is with these kind of things. Getting healthy is the goal."

To this point, the recovery has been satisfactory enough for The Ospreys match to be viewed as a legitimate return-to-play date.

The 34-year-old has earned 95 caps for Ireland, an agonising five short of the century.

This is an elite club of five made up of Brian O'Driscoll (133), Ronan O'Gara (128), Rory Best (108), Paul O'Connell (108) and John Hayes (105).

At the moment, this is probably close to the last thing on his mind.

Given what has gone before, there is understandable cautiousness about what lies ahead for Heaslip.

The next five weeks will be critical as he steps up his bid to make it back to the game he loves.

So far. So much better than before.

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