Thursday 18 July 2019

Heaslip ready for Welsh test

Jamie Heaslip has recovered from three fractured back vertebrae in time for Ireland's RBS 6 Nations clash against Wales in Cardiff
Jamie Heaslip has recovered from three fractured back vertebrae in time for Ireland's RBS 6 Nations clash against Wales in Cardiff

Jamie Heaslip shelved any fear that three cracked vertebrae would end his RBS 6 Nations campaign to complete his remarkable recovery to face Wales.

The British and Irish Lions number eight wound up with three fractures after Pascal Pape's crude knee to his back in Ireland's 18-11 victory over France.

The 31-year-old trudged out of the latter stages of that February triumph in Dublin, amid claims his Six Nations would be halted prematurely.

Ireland's most-capped number eight has long been famed for his ability to avoid injury, but now the Leinster stalwart can add quickfire recoveries to his catalogue of Test powers.

Joe Schmidt's side can take a giant leap towards their second Grand Slam in seven years with victory in Cardiff on Saturday, and Heaslip is in confident mood after beating his back problem to reclaim his starting berth.

"I don't personally listen to outside sources, I listen to our trusted medical team and they gave me some very good guidance," said Heaslip of hints his back injury could have ended his Six Nations.

"I live in a little bubble of day-to-day week to week so it makes life easy for me not to look too far down the line.

"It was an injury where I had to go day by day and every day was getting really, really good and progressed really well.

"We mapped out a really good, clear plan, in terms of ticking the boxes in recovery and I have ticked them along the way and now I'm good to go.

"It's great to be back, it's not the easiest of things to stand on the sidelines being held on a leash a little bit, that was probably for my own good, but it's great to get the opportunity to wear the jersey again.

"I'm a stubborn git and Joe knows that better than anyone.

"I want to live life at 100 miles an hour and sometimes that's not the smartest thing to do, and all the medical staff and backroom staff were great in helping me get back on my own two feet."

Paul O'Connell will win his 100th Ireland cap in Wales, equalling Mick Galwey's record as the nation's oldest Test captain, at exactly 35 years and 145 days.

Lynchpin fly-half Johnny Sexton is fit to win his 50th Ireland cap after hamstring trouble, as Schmidt's side bid to close in on the Grand Slam.

Cian Healy will also win his 50th cap if called into the fray from the bench, with Ireland gunning for a record 11th Test win in succession.

Ireland boss Schmidt insisted he had no doubts on fly-half Sexton's fitness, with the Racing Metro man having beaten his race against time to feature in Cardiff.

Munster fly-half Ian Keatley is expected to travel with the squad as precautionary cover, given the Irish provinces are not in Guinness Pro12 action this weekend.

Kiwi coach Schmidt also hailed evergreen lock O'Connell as the binding force of his side's growing determination as he gears up to join Ireland's century club.

"Johnny's had a very good run into the game, and he's had no problems right through that," said Schmidt.

"I guess you'll worry about all the players, about some returning from injury and if they get a knock and get compromised.

"You can't calculate for that, but you can make sure you have the cover prepared and ready to go.

"There's a part of Paul (O'Connell) that would love to play forever, but he's pretty excited about right now too.

"He's been a fantastic leader, and we've got a group then who lead with him and the other players lead themselves."

France lock Pape was slapped with a 10-week ban for his agricultural challenge on Heaslip on attempting to enter a ruck as Les Bleus struggled at the Aviva Stadium.

The Stade Francais second row had an appeal against that decision struck out, even though Heaslip fully accepted an apology sent via Twitter.

Pape may now already have played his last Six Nations match, given he is set to retire after the autumn World Cup.

In the immediate aftermath of the skirmish, Heaslip admitted he did not fret over the severity of the problem - instead taskmaster coach Schmidt's training-ground orders blasted through his head.

"At the time I just thought it was bloody sore, and I told myself 'get up'," said Heaslip.

"I strangely heard Joe (Schmidt) in my head screaming at me to get up.

"I didn't know if it was a knee or a shoulder.

"I tried to get on with it, but it stiffened up and I had to come off."

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