Friday 20 October 2017

Jamie Heaslip: I accept Pape's moment of madness. I did something similar to Richie McCaw

Heaslip believes it would be hypocritical to lambast Pape after his own clash with McCaw

Jamie Heaslip limps off after being kneed by France lock Pacal Pape
Jamie Heaslip limps off after being kneed by France lock Pacal Pape
Pascal Pape receives a yellow card for the challenge that caused Jamie Heaslip to limp off
Jamie Heaslip at the launch of the Tegral Academy
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

He understands the cynicism out there, the jaundiced public view of violent sinners and their self-serving apologies, but when Jamie Heaslip looks into the face of Pascal Pape, he sees no devil.

If anything, it feels like looking into a mirror. The Frenchman, whose knee damaged three vertebrae in Heaslip's back last month, sent him a private, remorseful email for an act that, effectively, drew the curtain down on Pape's Six Nations career.

He also apologised publicly, albeit the sincerity of either gesture must be asterisked by the fact that he subsequently appealed (unsuccessfully) his ten-week suspension on the basis of it being "excessive and disproportionate".

No matter. Heaslip sees himself today as poorly qualified to moralise. He publicly accepted Pape's apology on Twitter, saying: "It's a physical game that we play and these things happen."

In any event, was Pape's act any worse than his own in June of 2010 when he was red-carded in New Plymouth for jolting his knee into the head of Richie McCaw? Heaslip thinks not.

"People do stupid things, not just in sport, when they get caught up in something," he says now. "I know better than anyone that you see red sometimes and you just do something silly that's out of character. It happens. I'd be a hypocrite to say otherwise.

"You just accept it. You've got to take the person at face value and I've no reason not to. It's a physical game we play, stuff happens, guys get hurt.

"From my perspective, it happened, he was cited, he apologised. There's no point getting caught up in it because it's just wasted energy. I don't see the value in it. Everyone was going on about how quick he was to do it (apologise) publicly, but he sent me a private email about it all. I thought he was sincere and quite polite.

"He didn't have to apologise. Some people have been quite cynical about that. But I accept it for what it is."

Heaslip admits that his own experience with McCaw framed his perspective of the Pape incident. Five months after that game in New Zealand, the All Blacks were in Dublin for a November international and, as luck would have it, Heaslip ended up sitting with McCaw and his family at the post-match meal. It proved a more pleasant experience than he might have expected.

"They were all very nice towards me," he remembers. "Richie could have had some sort of animosity towards me, but didn't. He was quite a gentleman and his parents were very decent too. I remember at the time thinking 'Jesus, that was fairly big of them'.

"Because he had every reason to think whatever of me. But he was quite polite, so that kind of flashed before me with the Pape incident. It was similar.

"I mean I don't know what was going through Pape's head. But, for me, you just have these moments when you see red. I remember I sort of had a mindset of targeting Richie at the ruck because he's so good at slowing the ball up. Sometimes guys see red and do stupid things. And that's what happened."

Rucking

Heaslip says his body feels strong again now and he hopes to be available for Cardiff. He trained with Leinster yesterday morning, "Leo Cullen testing his dark secrets of rucking on me."

His career has been largely free of serious injury and, sometimes, he marvels at the fortitude of team-mates like Sean O'Brien and Luke Fitzgerald who have had to overcome such seemingly relentless ill-fortune.

Before the French game on February 14, there was some dressing-room banter about the imminent arrival of his 70th cap. He was first capped in a November international against the Pacific Islands nine years ago alongside fellow debutants Fitzgerald and Stephen Ferris.

Today, Fitzgerald has started just 19 games for Ireland. Ferris is retired. This sets him thinking about his own good fortune.

"You know a rugby career can be over quite quickly," he says. "It's a ruthless game, hugely physical. Careers can end very quickly for whatever reason. But my body, generally, stands up to the stress pretty well. I've been lucky."

This season, thus, is challenging him in a way with which he is unfamiliar.

He has played just one of Ireland's three Six Nations games thus far and watched the England match last Sunday from the stand with friends. It allowed him take a slightly detached view of proceedings and, to his surprise, he enjoyed it.

Watching Joe Schmidt's Ireland, the devil, he says, will always be in the detail.

Heaslip has been coached by Schmidt for five seasons now and sees the coach set standards his players are endlessly challenged to meet.

"He's very, very passionate," he says of the New Zealander. "But what he tends to do is focus on small, tangible things rather than obsessing about the big picture. I mean it's great to say you want to win the Six Nations or the Heineken Cup, all those lofty goals.

"But if you want to climb Everest, you've got to focus on the first step. That's what Joe does. He forces you to think about what daily - literally daily - goals you can set yourselves.

"The good thing about Joe is he never relents on his attention to that detail. He is constantly pulling it in the video session after. He used do the same in Leinster. At the end of a season, you'd get a sheet with moments he thought you did well and stuff you need to work on. He narrows the focus down.

"I think what you saw last week is I would say. . . most of the game was probably being played in England's half and that was part of the game-plan. Some people gave out about that plan. But you have to break down certain teams by playing in different areas of the field. You can't just play from everywhere, much as we'd like to.

"Both teams were very good defensively, but what you saw was the discipline around the ruck being kept really well by Ireland, with England just not being as clinical there. They were giving up some soft penalties. That was off the back of Ireland stressing them and forcing the mistakes."

Schmidt encourages the team to interpret a penalty advantage as a free-play, and that mindset led to Robbie Henshaw's try last Sunday,

"We rep that in training," says Heaslip. "We rep that mentality of getting in the 22 and just playing, playing, playing.

"You just saw lads against England being really clinical and tuned in. And that's all off the back of preparation. You play as you train. Joe drives that standard but, at the same time, he will let you be a footballer within that system. He will always say, if it's on to play, play. And I think you've seen Ireland over the last ten games, we've attacked from all over the place.

"In fairness to England, they come off the line very, very hard and close down your space so you can't get two, three passes in. They just shut the door on you. But when Ireland got momentum I think it stressed them massively."

Challenge

Cardiff, mind, presents a unique challenge of its own now.

Famously, Warren Gatland tried to pack the preliminaries six years ago with gunpowder, suggesting that Irish and Welsh players did not especially like one another. As someone who has roomed with an assortment of Welshmen on the last two Lions tours, Heaslip could not disagree more forcibly.

"I don't know where all that came from," he grins. "Maybe some people just trying to spin. Maybe at the time it just suited Warren's agenda. But Andy Powell was unbelievable to me on the '09 tour. And I roomed with Toby Faletau on the last Lions tour, very nice guy.

"I love the Welsh lads, they're great craic. It's always good to catch up with guys like Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Alex Cuthbert or Alun Wyn Jones. You develop a real respect when you play with these guys on a Lions tour.

"People like Sam Warburton too, Justin Tipuric and Toby. They're good blokes. I like them."

He gets asked a lot about the potential of this Irish team and the possibilities before it. As expectations soar, the narrative gets a little giddy. Yet, two years ago, he remembers sitting in a devastated dressing-room in Rome's Stadio Olimpico -Ireland having just suffered their first Six Nations defeat to Italy - and thinking how the experience would stand to the young players blooded there. It has too.

Ireland are now favourites to retain the title of European Champions and, should they do so, will go to this autumn's World Cup with more than a puncher's chance.

"I haven't looked into the stats of Six Nations champions at World Cups, though England did win it in '03," he smiles.

"But, come next weekend lads won't be thinking about that. They won't be thinking about breaking the record number of wins either. The focus will be just going to Wales and playing a bloody good side."

Jamie Heaslip was speaking at the launch of Tegral Academy in Athy, Ireland's first-ever training facility for roofing contractors that aims to improve the quality of standards and workmanship in Irish roofing. Tegral is the market leader in roofing and Ireland's only manufacturer of fibre cement roof slates. Tegral.com

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