Monday 18 December 2017

Heaslip happy to hand the captaincy back to O’Driscoll

Jamie Heaslip expects to hand the Irish captaincy back to Brian O'Driscoll today as Declan Kidney announces his Six Nations squad in Dublin.

With O'Driscoll sidelined through injury, Heaslip led Ireland in the three November internationals, but admits to being in the dark now as Kidney prepares to unveil his championship plans. The Irish coach will reveal a 30-strong squad at the Aviva this morning and has, as yet, given the Leinster No 8 no indication of whether or not he is in the frame for a leadership role.

He admitted: "I haven't had any meetings about it. But no, if Brian was made captain, I would have no qualms with it. It is probably what I would expect. I was made captain during November. I don't know what Deccy is going to do now. But I would have no qualms if Brian is back in and Deccy makes him captain again.

"You never know with Deccy, I might get another phone call in Tesco's. I'll try and be in a better place."

Heaslip described himself as "humbled" by the honour of captaining Ireland in November and was highly self-critical when sin-binned at a crucial juncture in the 12-16 defeat to South Africa. He subsequently led Ireland 'A' to a 53-0 defeat of Fiji in Thomond Park before a seven-try spectacular against Argentina rescued Ireland's precious second-tier seeding for the subsequent World Cup draw.

Lions coach, Warren Gatland, described him afterwards as a credible captaincy candidate for the summer tour to Australia.

But Heaslip admits that a pre-occupation with Leinster's season has prevented him from over-analysing the experience of leading his country in the autumn. "I haven't really thought about it as I was straight back into the mix (with Leinster)," he reflected. "I feel kind of sorry for the management with the national squad as you have the November series, then you have to wait two months before your next game.

"Then it's another two or three months, then you have to wait six months, while we are 'bang, bang, bang', playing loads of games. The hangover from November is gone pretty quickly. But it (the captaincy) was awesome. It was cool. It was quite humbling leading out your mates, your team-mates, guys who are unbelievable calibre of players, leading them out onto the pitch."

The experience, he insists, never weighed heavily on him.

"Brian will probably tell you as well from his experience, there are so many different leaders within the team anyway that, in a way, you don't need one captain as such" said Heaslip. "Guys like Jonny (Sexton), or ROG, or Paddy Jackson at 10, they know exactly what the team has to do. The same for whoever calls line-outs or plays, everyone knows what they have to do. You have guys who will chat and talk."

O'Driscoll has not played for Ireland since the 0-60 humiliation against New Zealand in Hamilton last June and missed last year's Six Nations through injury. However, he returned to Heineken Cup action with Leinster last weekend and is now expected to lead Ireland out at the Millennium Stadium on February 2.

England captain, Chris Robshaw, meanwhile, has predicted a testing evening for Leinster at Exeter's Sandy Park on Saturday as they chase the bonus-point win needed to keep their Heineken Cup hopes alive.

The Harlequins flanker revealed yesterday: "We didn't have a great day down there this year unfortunately. What to expect down in Exeter? They play a lot of running rugby, they're a good side. It could be quite windy. It'll be a challenge, a massive challenge. Exeter pride themselves on their home record. Did we get four tries? No, we got pumped! It wasn't a good day for Harlequins down there.

"Northampton went there recently and got a win through kind of a driving maul and stuff like that. But no, they're a very fit side, who work very hard for each other. Rob Baxter's done a great job."

Did he consider a bonus-point win a realistic hope for Leinster?

"In all honesty, I haven't seen Leinster playing much this season," he replied diplomatically.

"I saw their game against Clermont and the odd bit. But, like I said, it is a very tough place to go."

Irish Independent

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