'It's not easy seeing your mates go through injuries' - Heaslip
Published 17/05/2016 | 02:30
News that Sean O'Brien has suffered a breakdown in his recovery from the hamstring injury that ruined his Six Nations came as no surprise at Leinster headquarters yesterday. Week after week, the bulletins on the Tullow Tank have been optimistic but as the season went on the likelihood that he would play a part grew more remote.
Now, it looks like he and Cian Healy will miss the summer tour of South Africa. In the secretive world that exists around injury in Irish rugby, neither will be ruled out just yet, but it appears highly unlikely that either man will make it.
So, Ireland will take on the Springboks minus two of their most athletically gifted power-athletes who have spent so much time in the treatment room in recent seasons as a result of different problems.
It must be deeply frustrating for the players themselves, while their coaches would much prefer them to be out on the pitch, dominating collisions like old times.
Their injuries allow the questions over sustainability to rear their heads. Can players like O'Brien and Healy really keep doing what they do for a career's worth of rugby or does the body need a break?
Certainly, there is a growing trend for the rugby sabbatical, with England and Lions prop Alex Corbisiero the latest to opt out for a year.
Jamie Heaslip is one of the few players whose body stands up to the rigours of the professional game. He played with Corbisiero in 2013 and says that, while players are open-minded to the possibility, a break is a tough thing to take.
"You've seen in the southern hemisphere where organisations have worked with players to have sabbaticals," he said. "It is within the realms of possibility. It is very hard for a player to actually go, 'You know what, I'll take a year out here', because there's always someone else coming up through the system.
"All a guy needs is an opportunity to grab the jersey and, then, he's not just going to hand it over to a guy, is he? You've always that kind of fear.
"I commend guys who take that approach. Sometimes they flip it a little bit, like (James) Haskell, who went around the globe a little bit to use rugby as a way to experience different cultures. There's different ways of doing it.
"It is very hard for a guy to do it, especially in Ireland where you're playing with a club you've been supporting since you were seven or eight, in most cases. It's very hard to take a break from your club.
"Everyone has a different mindset in how they approach it. My mindset wouldn't be like that. I think there's plenty of time after rugby for me to do that stuff.
"If a lad turned to me and said he was going to take a year off, I'd say, 'Fair play', and I'd hope it would go well for him."
While Heaslip says his team-mates are making the best of it, he admits that he sympathises with their plight.
"It lets them not be in such a pressurised environment the whole time and allows them explore the world outside of rugby, but it's not easy seeing your mates go through that either," he said.
"It's tough, the lads have ups and downs, they've tough times and set-backs with injuries but those two guys right now are, not embracing it, but they're really trying to flip into the positive and see it as an opportunity."