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Heaslip: new lads coming up keep me on my toes

It doesn't seem all that long ago that Jamie Heaslip was the new kid in town.

In fact, the newly- appointed Leinster captain is a 10-year veteran of professional rugby since making his competitive debut against The Ospreys in March of 2005, later into the same season he was short-listed for the U21 World Player of the Year.

The Naas No. 8 would be the first one to say that there is all the time in the world to look back on your career when it is finally over.

He rarely allows himself to the comfort of dwelling on the past. It is not in the nature of this beast.

And still.

There are those kids who are now where Heaslip once was, trying to break through into regular first-team action for Leinster, a playground where a man can truly explore and reach his potential.

As always, the specialist eight is inclined to take extra care of those trying to make a play for time in the forward jerseys, especially those in the middle and back rows.

There were those who demanded his attention from the character-building comeback against a near full-strength Northampton Saints at Franklins Gardens in the first of two pre-season experiments last Saturday.

Heaslip named names.

"I would always be looking at the back row. I thought Dan Leavy had a very good game. I am a big fan of Dippy (Dominic Ryan). I think Josh (van der Flier) went well.

"Gav' Thornbury, when he came on, and Ben Marshall - I am big fan of his too - went well at second row."

The praise also came with a warning sign. The exuberance of youth can be a tool for good and bad.

"For the younger guys, their whole mindset is about trying to showcase themselves which is kind of a double-edged sword because if you start playing outside the system you can mess it up.

"I always tell guys just to do your job in the system," he said.

"You get your chances on the ball. But, play within the systems."

The Leinster playing roster is full to overflowing with established Ireland internationals, a lengthening layer of Age-Grade internationals keen to challenge the natural order and those located somewhere in between.

Some will have time to impress in the final pre-season show against Ulster tomorrow. Their priorities are not the same as those of Heaslip: "It is a very different mindset.

"For experienced players, they just want to get back up to game speed. They want to go through some of the plays they've been practicing to reinforce the way we want to play.

"Then, there are those returning from injury. Like the experienced players, they are trying to get up to speed."

It is the extra element of the Inter-provincial factor that will take the eyes of one not usually too concerned with pre-season combat, namely Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

"You throw in a little sugar and spice of playing a mini inter-provincial. It starts getting escalated into lads showcasing for the international window. It will add to the flavour of it."

FORTUNATE

Sometimes the cards can fall in favour of the fortunate ones: "Opportunity comes in many different ways.

"You either force the opportunity yourself or an injury happens and you take it. Sometimes you just get given a chance."

The club is loaded with players who have taken their chances. Prop Martin Moore, centre Noel Reid and loose forward Jordi Murphy are recent examples.

"Guys are kicking on. You look at Noel Reid, who played in it last year, who ended up getting capped by the end of the season. He is pushing hard to make a case for himself going forward this season.

"Age is just a number people come up with. People who are 19 think they're 90; people who are 90 think they are 20.

"Leinster is a good, competitive environment. There is always competition in the gym. There is always competition on the field. It pushes that standard up all over the pitch.

"It keeps you on your toes, keeps you playing to a certain level. You've got to have that line of players coming up through the system."

The reality of this business is that this is the last chance for one or two young players to convince coach Matt O'Connor they are ready for the Guinness PRO12 League.

The ramifications of the IRFU Player Welfare Programme means some senior internationals will be held back for week one away to Glasgow Warriors.

Who will step out of the shadows of pre-season and into the spotlight?

It is a place of pressure Heaslip has been dealing with for a decade.


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