Tuesday 24 October 2017

Heaslip gets chance to audition for leading role with Gatland’s Lions

David Kelly

David Kelly

Jamie Heaslip will get a chance to show Lions head coach Warren Gatland his potential to become the third successive Irish Lions captain when he leads out Ireland in tomorrow's clash against South Africa at Lansdowne Road.

Gatland will be at the game to run his eye over a host of Lions candidates but with many leading contenders absent, he will be intrigued as to how the Leinster man does after injury ruled out the last two Lions captains, Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.

Sam Warburton is currently the odds-on favourite to captain the tourists to Australia but Gatland, the former Ireland coach, is keen to develop other possibilities.

Heaslip revealed that head coach Declan Kidney told him of his decision while he was out shopping.

"I'm quite humbled," said 29-year-old Heaslip, who was born in Israel where his father, Richard, was stationed on UN duty with Irish peacekeeping forces.

"The first thing he (dad) said was, 'congratulations on your captaincy but I'm still the colonel so I pull rank'," Heaslip said.

With Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris and Rob Kearney also out, Kidney sprung a number of surprises, headed by the inclusion of full-back Simon Zebo. Leinster's South African-born hooker Richardt Strauss (left) will make his debut in direct opposition to his cousin, Adriaan, but he said he will feel no emotion when he hears his native country's anthem.

"I made my commitment to Ireland three years ago and I'm just very happy to get this opportunity," said Strauss, whose parents will attend the game. "The toughest thing for me three years ago was to know you're saying goodbye to your family. But I'm settled here and very happy."

Michael Bent, who never set foot on Irish soil until joining the squad a fortnight ago, is in line to earn his debut from the bench, alongside rising Ulster star Iain Henderson.

"You need to be planning for the future and we're in that future now," said Kidney.

Irish Independent

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