Heaslip 'is learning'

24 February 2013; A dejected Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip leaves the pitch after defeat by Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Des Berry

LEINSTER Team Manager Guy Easterby has rounded on the critics of Jamie Heaslip's captaincy of Ireland in the Six Nations.

"I have been very disappointed with some of the criticism Jamie has been getting," he said.

"The captaincy, he has done a good job here. He has had an incredible record," added Easterby, about the 11 wins and one loss he has accumulated as part-time Leinster leader.

The timing of Ireland coach Declan Kidney's decision to remove the captaincy from Brian O'Driscoll became an immediate issue, no matter who was asked to embrace the role.

"The international captaincy is a different environment. He is learning that as he goes along. You've got to give someone like that an opportunity to grow into the role. There is a lot of responsibility with that captaincy."

England captain Chris Robshaw would break out into a wide smile at the criticism meted out to Heaslip. It was only a few short months ago in November that he was blamed for a tactical decision that cost victory over South Africa.

Now, he will probably lead England towards a Grand Slam crack at Wales in the Millennium Stadium as long as they take care of Italy in two weeks' time.

"For people to be questioning some of his (Heaslip's) choices from the stands or the television, I find that incredible," added Easterby.

A band of commentators did seem to jump the gun in jumping on Heaslip for first quarter decisions to go for seven points when three were on offer.

It would be utterly naive to think that Ireland had not agreed a pre-game plan on what to do when they first moved into an attacking position and received a penalty at a difficult angle.


"Jamie is his own man. I don't think he would take on the role unless he was able to perform it the way he sees best," said his club manager.

There has been negative reaction to what appeared to be a public debate about the decision to go for the corner when points were on offer in the first quarter. "I have seen people coming up and saying something to him, but that happens in every single game. I haven't heard anything from anyone to say that he's not fit for that role or not forthright and strong."

In fairness, Heaslip is there to captain and part of his remit is to take into account the opinions of his predecessor O'Driscoll and other established, experienced men, like Rory Best, and lineout caller Donnacha Ryan.

There is the captain and, then, there is the responsibility. Easterby does not believe the extra responsibility has diminished his contribution to play.

"From his game, on a personal level outside the captaincy, I think he's playing well. It is very hard to listen to some people on the television criticising his performances," said Easterby.

"Actually, Jamie plays a certain role. He's a very selfless player in terms of the way he plays the game based on the make-up of the back row he plays in.

"He has had to adjust his role accordingly. He is doing that. I dread to think how many balls he had to carry and how many tackles he made (on Sunday).

"His individual performance is right up there. I would be disappointed with people questioning that."