'Wolverine' Heaslip in comic-book recovery from injury
AS Jamie Heaslip began 2015 faced with the unusual prospect of injury rehabilitation, arguably his biggest obstacle was remembering where the Leinster medical room was located.
When chief rehab coach Diarmuid Brennan sought to extricate Heaslip's medical files - or rather file, singular - we understand that the cobwebbed page had been nibbled away by woodworm for not since 2010 has the giant Kildare man been forced to consult the medics.
"I like to keep it all on one sheet," he smiles, after recovering in double-quick time from the shoulder damage that forced him from the field against Ulster in the first game of the year.
Astonishing durability has become his hallmark. While most players admit to playing at rather less than 100pc capacity, they will also regularly sit out training sessions even if near to full fitness, merely to rest a muscle or massage a long-standing sprain or strain.
Not the freak of nature that is the 31-year-old Heaslip. "He just never misses a session," says his admiring coach Matt O'Connor. "He never gets injured."
Until now. But then his powers of recovery, dormant for so long, kicked into gear as if injury were the most natural phenomenon in the world.
Most expected a return next week; instead, Leinster confirmed yesterday he will start this week.
They have taken to calling him "Wolverine" in Dublin 4, a reference to the ageless, crabby comic book hero brought to life by Hugh Jackman.
Heaslip has donned dodgy moustaches in the past; we may now see him begin to sport mutton chops.
On the players' nominal day off - Wednesday - Heaslip was in the massage room and commandeered the music system in order to blast out the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' soundtrack.
Indeed, it seems there ain't no mountain high enough for this player's comic book powers of recovery.
"There's always going to be special athletes and freaks like Jamie," adds O'Connor. "There's just not enough of them.
"The playing every week is one thing. In my time here, that AC injury is the first time he's missed a training session and you very rarely get that in the game.
"It's unbelievable the amount of guys that have to be managed throughout the training week, that have to be sat out for bits and pieces, or not train because of any number of issues is very high.
"But Jamie misses very few sessions - none in my time here - and very few games."
Heaslip remains relatively unmoved by an injury profile which stands isolated as a rarity in a sport that can produce collisions with impacts greater than minor car crashes.
"The Wolverine blood kicked in and I was grand," he giggles. "Matt just thought I needed a week off because I'm getting old.
"But I say I'm like Benjamin Button and I'm only getting younger. But, yeah, I'm fine.
"It's probably embarrassing more than strange to be honest, the fact that I was injured. I didn't know my way around the physio room or these things called medicals that happen after games as well, that was a bit strange.
"I got a bit of kick when I had to get my scans because they had to look back to 2010 for my last scan from the hospital.
"The doctor got a bit of a giggle out of that one because all of my injuries are on one sheet whereas most lads have a couple of sheets of stuff. I like to keep it all on one sheet, so we'll see how it goes."
Heaslip's presence this week is a statement of intent against French visitors Castres who are mired in relegation trouble, are out of Europe and who have never won on any previous visit to these shores.
He will act as a bulwark against complacency; so too the rejigging of the tight-head side of the front-row, with O'Connor confirming the growing impression that Ireland's number one, Mike Ross, will be demoted in preference to Marty Moore, who has recovered from his own shoulder issues in timely fashion.
"His chances are good, yeah," said O'Connor, already resigned to losing both Jack McGrath and Cian Healy on the other side; albeit the latter's own extraordinary ability to recuperate from injury has prevented anyone from declaring that he may make an equally miraculous comeback.
"I thought Jack was very good in Cardiff and he has trained well. He doesn't have any issues with his shoulder and he's been flying around.
"There's potentially a sea change at tight-head for us. It's about performance. We've got a lot of really good guys in the environment.
"The responsibility on the bloke who pulls the shirt on is to make sure that he's good, to make sure he retains that shirt the following week.
"Whoever gets those opportunities in the front-row or the back-row or the midfield, they have to take those opportunities.
"If they do that, they'll more than likely keep their place in the team.
"If their performance wanes or is perceived not to be up to the standard, then they won't play."
And, although ruling out Sean O'Brien, the presence of both he and Healy on the training pitch has infused good humour in the squad, even if the latter does not return this week.
"We need to be patient with them," insisted O'Connor. "They have had long-term injuries. They need to get a base of rugby under their belt before you put them out.
"The good thing for the group is they are in and around the environment. They are out of rehab and they can actually do a bit of the stuff they enjoy."
As is now traditional, O'Connor refused to hint which of his two out-halves, Jimmy Gopperth or Ireland wannabe Ian Madigan, will start the game, confirming only that national coach Joe Schmidt will have absolutely no input into the decision.