Thursday 18 January 2018

Leinster's new leader Jamie Heaslip has done it all before

Jamie Heaslip's appointment as Leinster captain is a 'no brainer', according to Leo Cullen, his predecessor in the role. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Jamie Heaslip's appointment as Leinster captain is a 'no brainer', according to Leo Cullen, his predecessor in the role. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Jamie Heaslip is so devoted to his work at Leinster that sometimes he even sleeps there.

Little surprise, then, at the decision to confirm his status as the new club captain, which was effectively his role last season during the lengthy absences of his now retired predecessors, Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll.

The 30-year-old, who enjoyed – or rather endured – an unhappy spell as the national captain during Declan Kidney’s ill-fated final fling at the helm two seasons back, will be suitably assisted by Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney.

And so Leinster’s leadership corps advances another generation.

What's your opinion?

Far removed from his public persona, which, with his flip-flops and Beats apparatus, seems to rile so many, Heaslip’s professionalism remains utterly beyond reproach.

He played more minutes than any other player last season and didn’t miss a single Leinster training session outside the international window.

If he is prone to sleeping on the job – he claims an occasional dressing-room floor kip as a crucial part of his preparation – then he has roundly entitled himself to the indulgence.

Certainly, if Leinster were to have adopted Munster’s erstwhile tradition of appointing their leader by the ballot box, Heaslip’s x-factor would have easily topped the polls.

“The feeling was that he’s done the job before,” claimed coach Matt O’Connor, beginning his second season in charge minus the enviable experience of Cullen and O’Driscoll. He’s an unbelievable professional in the environment and he rarely misses a game. He plays every week, he trains every session, he’s fantastic in the environment.

“And I think Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney in the vice-captaincy roles will tick all the boxes for us in that leadership scenario.

“The vote concept is interesting and I think there would be no players unhappy to be led by Jamie. He’s done it a hell of a lot over the last couple of seasons and done pretty well for us, so it was an easy decision. We’ll have a decision to make in the test windows in relation to who leads that side.

“But you have the likes of Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss and Kevin McLaughlin, who have all probably slipped out of test reckoning, but who would be around in those windows for us. You couldn’t ask for three better candidates.”

Cullen, who begins his new role as forwards’ coach this season, was the most successful captain in European club rugby history with three title wins, so his imprimatur carries a significant weight all of its own.

“Jamie pretty much did the role last year,” confirms Cullen, on a day when the introduction of the newly-configured Leinster coaching team was usurped by captaincy chatter.

“He is such a consistent performer and such an integral part of the team and everything that has been good about the team the last six or seven or eight years. It’s a no-brainer.

“He is just so phenomenally consistent in the way he performs and he has been a massive help to me the last couple of years. I’d like to think he was more the captain last year and I was just trying to assist him in that process. He does everything he can to prepare himself to be as good as he can be and he is very good at helping the younger guys as well.

“His importance is not down to coincidence. After being around so long and at the age he is – we have talked before about that bit of luck and staying injury-free – I don’t know if it is necessarily luck with him.

Hard

“He is very well put together, but he works so hard as well and, hopefully, he has a good season.”

Like his fellow internationals, Heaslip will be spared the pre-season preparations that continue away to Northampton this Saturday before the final warm-up game in Tallaght Stadium against Ulster a week later.

Absent for injury reasons will be a post-surgery quartet – Gordon D’Arcy, Sean Cronin, Luke Fitzgerald are expected back in  mid-September, while hooker Richardt Strauss is pencilled in for a mid-October return.

Leinster are hopeful that new Australian lock signing, Kane Douglas, will be able to pitch up at training within the next three weeks.

Behemoth centre Ben Teo’o, currently involved in the NRL play-offs with his South Sydney Rabbitohs side, may yet have to wait until October to link up with the Pro12 champions.

Leinster have also announced the promotion of Academy players Sam Coghlan-Murray, Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong,  Luke McGrath, Colm O’Shea and James Tracy.

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