Heaslip relishing fiery reunion with 'madman' Cheika
JAMIE HEASLIP has credited Waratahs coach Michael Cheika with laying the foundations for Leinster's success story and for helping to shape his professional career.
The Ireland and Leinster back-row believes that his rugby development was enhanced enormously by his involvement in the last Lions tour to South Africa and he feels the experience of spending time with Brad Thorn was crucial in his progression.
Cheika's influence on him and on Leinster – and, indeed, that of Alan Gaffney – came in for generous praise.
"Leinster had lost its way a little bit when Cheiks came in," recalled Heaslip. "We were training in different places and it was a little all over the place. He put structures in place and, even though he was gone by the time we moved to UCD and the central training base, he was the one who pushed for that to happen.
"From a personal point of view the experience of South Africa four years ago and the four months Brad Thorn spent with Leinster had a huge impact on me and left big impressions.
"I had a great relationship with Cheiks though. He was a fiery character, but I had a lot of time for him and he for me.
"I was really blessed because he was a back-row player and I was lucky because we saw the game similarly."
Heaslip does hope to spend some time with both Cheika and Gaffney – "Alan is a special character. He'd get frustrated when explaining a drill at times and would end up screaming at you but he was great. He always took the time out to talk to you about different things."
But he isn't expecting any favours tomorrow.
"What is it Cheiks said? 'If it's red they'll hit it?' That sounds like him alright," Heaslip laughed.
"He is a fiery bloke, a tough nut.
"It didn't always suit everyone, but he gave so many young guys a chance during a time when it was a little bit harder for younger guys to get a go.
"But he also kept you under the pump. He demanded the best from players. Sometimes the way he went about that was good for some players, but harder to take for others.
"He will have gone all out in training this week. I wouldn't be surprised if the pads the Waratahs lads were hitting in training were red. He's a stickler for detail and I am certain we'll get a tough outing against them."
There is a strong – and growing – belief that the players selected from numbers one to 10 for tomorrow's game will also feature in the Test team in a week's time. Heaslip isn't convinced and maintains that the players are as much in the dark as everyone else regarding a possible Test selection.
"No-one here is guaranteed a starting (Test) spot. This is another chance to play for the Lions. That's all it means at this stage. We've got a massive squad that are constantly trying different combinations.
"In a weird way we're focused on helping each other. We've seen how physical these games are and how quickly injuries can happen. Everyone is looking out for each other and making sure we're strong as a collective.
"We want the collective really, really strong coming into this weekend and more importantly coming into the Tests."
Heaslip cut a very relaxed figure at the team announcement for the Waratahs clash. He was quick with a smile and, every so often, broke into an easy laugh as he pondered how Cheika will be dealing with the build-up to tomorrow's game.
"Oh, I'd say training has been fun with plenty of bleeps for editing purposes!
"He's a passionate man, really, really passionate about his rugby and wants people to go 100pc flat out.
"He doesn't like people holding back, he doesn't like people hiding. He's a big believer in hard work and effort and intensity and showing the passion.
"That's how he played and I'm sure the boys around here will tell you how he played, he was a hard nut, some would say a madman at times.
"He'll want to take our scalp. It promises to be a good contest and I'm looking forward to catching up with him and Alan afterwards."