Tuesday 20 February 2018

We can make history in Bok 'coliseum' - Heaslip

Jamie Heaslip at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Camps in St Mary's National School, Ranelagh Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Jamie Heaslip at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Camps in St Mary's National School, Ranelagh Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Jamie Heaslip during squad training for Leinster Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Keith Wood reckons it is madness to have a summer tour - especially a gruelling three-Test series to South Africa - pinned on to the end of an already gruesomely extended 11-month World Cup season.

But if the concept seems fatiguing for those on the sidelines, the message from the players, as voiced by the seemingly indefatigable Jamie Heaslip, is positively buoyant: bring it on!

"I love a tour," he enthuses, basking in the warm glow of rare balmy sun as Leinster launched their rather less pressurised Bank of Ireland summer camps.

"Most players absolutely love a tour. It's an opportunity to go somewhere which you wouldn't normally get. Ireland haven't toured there in a long time. Lads love that opportunity.

"They've tried to manage our playing load as best they can. Hopefully by the time I next tog out it will have been three and a bit weeks since I last played. And that is probably the first time I've had a break like that in six or seven years, which is fantastic - and I wouldn't be the only one in that boat."

Being prepared to play is one matter; being prepared to win quite another.

After dipping below their self-imposed high standards in successive tournaments, achieving a maiden Test win in South Africa - never mind the aspiration of a series success there - would atone for much of this season's under-achievement in green.

"It's disappointing for us if we don't win; as much as I would love to win it every year sometimes that just doesn't happen," says Heaslip.

"We'd like to do something that hasn't been done. It's a tall task, it won't be easy. It would be class. It's up there with achievements to strive for. And whatever squad goes down there gets three shots at it.

"Why can't we? I'm asking you. I don't see any reason why not, that would be my answer.

"They are a good team, though. Plenty of threats, new coaching staff, which makes it quite tricky in terms of predicting what the squad will be or what they will be doing.

"We've had some recent success alright against South Africa up here but having played them down there in their back garden, they can be a different animal altogether."

Joe Schmidt and the brains trust - which officially included former England defence coach Andy Farrell in harness for the first time - sowed some seeds during their mini-camp in Enfield last weekend.

The Irish squad had a short 45-minute training session on Monday after spending the previous day in a variety of meetings; it says a lot about the complicated South Africa/Ireland relationship that the footage from Ireland's last visit there dated back fully 12 years.

Ireland were well cooked in the opener of that two-game series in Bloemfontein but ran the Boks much closer in Cape Town a week later before falling short, as they so have so often on summer tours to the big three, in the final quarter.

Cape Town will mark the first stop this time around on June 11 when Ireland aim to complete unfinished business, having watched a video of that 2004 game at the weekend.

"Yeah, Guy (current Leinster manager, then scrum-half) and Simon Easterby (current Ireland forwards coach, then flanker) were playing," smiles Heaslip. "We put themselves in a situation to win, had the opportunities, and the difference was just a bad exit at the end of the game. They got a penalty and then South Africa killed the final couple of minutes.

"Going down there, those are opportunities that are not going to come around that often. They've got multiple threats: a great passing game, they've got ability throughout their backs as well as a massive pack and ball carriers who can provide that kind of platform that every team wants."

With a new coaching team, the Boks may undergo subtle changes in style and selection but, as Heaslip and his fellow Irish survivors from the 2009 Lions tour can attest, one aspect, the intoxicating atmosphere, will retain its unwavering, feverish intensity.

"I've said to the lads the most intimidating atmosphere I've ever experienced was down in Pretoria and the stadium was amazing," he says.

"They love their rugby. They're lovely away from the field but when they start talking about rugby and the Springboks they are very passionate about it and that passion spills into the players when they are around that.

"They know what they're representing, the emotion attached to that jersey. They're pretty big news in South Africa and they've earned that kind of respect over the years and that's what makes it pretty intimidating for us because they let us know all about it.


"And that Cape Town stadium, it's really tall and the you just feel a kind of weight on top of you. It is a little like the way they close the roof in Cardiff. There is this heaviness. You feel like you're in a coliseum.

"You are going into battle and you've just got this heaviness, this thickness in the air of raw power. It's a cauldron."

As is his wont, Schmidt pointed out to his squad that they will have more than broiling heat and altitude to deal with.

"He was talking about how everyone thinks it's dry down there. Joe, with his stats, showed us there is 45pc chance of rain any day," smiles Heaslip. "He knows what to expect.

"I know from the Lions, the altitude was a bit of a shock to the system also. It's a hostile environment. It gets the hair on the back of your neck up."

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport