Monday 18 December 2017

Heaslip has a lot to learn

Penalty decision could have made Leinster win easier

Too often these days, the question of captaincy boils down to a 'do as I do' rather than a 'do as I say' attitude to leadership.

A great captain, like a great player, is one who makes the right decision under pressure more times than those around him. Here, Leinster have an issue at the moment.

On Saturday evening, Leinster scrum-half Isaac Boss had just split the Connacht defence in two to fling out an inviting pass for Isa Nacewa to wrong-foot impressive newcomer Darragh Fanning for the first and only try of the evening.

It separated the provinces by five points in a fixture and at a venue, The Sportsground, that Leinster have tasted the bitterness of defeat on their two previous visits.

It was safe to presume coach Joe Schmidt would have taken any shade of a win there. Shortly after Nacewa's breakthrough, Leinster were awarded a penalty on the left by referee George Clancy.

Here the view of 'common sense' should have prevailed. The carry over value of recent personal experience should have kicked in. The three points should have been devoured by Jonathan Sexton. They were forfeited.

Instead, unbeaten captain Jamie Heaslip consented to going for the corner and the maximum take-away of seven points in a very Munster-like coup. It didn't to go to plan.

In a tight battle, there is no shame in taking what is on offer and starting again, especially when Connacht are not built to strike quickly and often, except for the presence of quick-fire Fionn Carr out wide.

A handy three points would have forced the home side to move outside their comfort zone.

This was never going to be a 'four-tries for a bonus-point' night. The balance of probability, not possibility, should have kicked in as it surely would have for club captain Leo Cullen. Thus, a gap that could have been stretched out to eight points was reduced to two when Connacht out-half Ian Keatley shot three in the 34th minute. This should have been transformed into a one-point lead only for the leading scorer in the Magners League to miscue a simple penalty on the half-time whistle.

Heaslip is a supremely gifted athlete with a natural footballing intuition for where to be and what to do when he gets there. He leads by instinct and an on-the-spot influence on proceedings.

The role of captaincy is a learning curve. Heaslip, 26, is in his prime right now. Quite rightly, he is seen as a future captain of his country because he is, arguably, the best number eight in the world.

He just needs the time in the job to realise that the 'gung-ho' approach to accumulating points is sometimes less effective than a more measured respect for the points themselves.

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