Sunday 25 February 2018

'I'd stop you right there' - Heaslip doesn't take talk of Irish underperformance

Jamie Heaslip shows his disappointment after the defeat against France. Photo: Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip shows his disappointment after the defeat against France. Photo: Sportsfile
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Ireland enter their fourth Six Nations game without a win for the first time since Italy were added 16 years ago but Jamie Heaslip still won't accept that Ireland haven't been performing well.

An understrength Ireland raised their game to earn a credible draw with Wales in the opener despite losing a 13-point first half lead before losing the following week in Paris to a team that couldn't be further away from the swashbuckling French attackers of the previous ten years.

The England game was similarly mixed - Stuart McCloskey, Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane all performed strongly on their debut but once again a poor second half in terms of accuracy meant Ireland once again left without a win.

Ireland's struggles in attack have been particularly noticeable as they have managed just two tries and ten second half points across their three games.

Italy arrive in Dublin this weekend to give Joe Schmidt's men their best chance of a win, but despite their Six Nations drought, Heaslip doesn't think it has been a disastrous campaign.

"I'd kinda stop you right there to be honest," Heaslip said immediately after a question about Ireland's poor form.

"We've won the competition by the same margin that we've lost the last two games. The difference really is we've not taken the opportunities that we've created. Also, when they've had the ball, a lapse of concentration or execution against good sides, they score tries. We are still creating a lot of opportunities and defending well for long periods. We've got to work on those positives as well and bring them into the last two games."

The defence has only allowed three tries in the same amount of games, a ratio that would have seen Ireland past Argentina at the World Cup if they had been able to transfer their spring form into the autumn.

And while Italy have been playing a more expansive brand of rugby than usual - their 10/12/13 axis of Carlo Canna, Gonzalo Garcia and Michele Campagnaro has been particularly potent - with Ireland smarting from two straight defeats, they should have more than enough to extingush the Italian attacking threat and notch their first victory of this campaign.

However, if there is any complacency in the Irish side, memories of 2013 should root it out. Jamie Heaslip led the Irish team to Rome that year for their first ever Six Nations loss to Italy to end Declan Kidney's nightmare final campaign. The back row is determined to ensure nothing similar happens this Saturday at the Aviva.

"As captain, we went over there and lost and nearly came last in the Six Nations," Heaslip said.

"That was a tough day but I remember sitting in the changing room and talking to the lads about remembering how that felt. It was a pretty dark changing room but a lot of the lads who played in that Six Nations that didn't go our way got a lot of experience from it and we kicked on and won it then for two years."

Watch Jamie Heaslip's full interview with the IRFU Youtube channel here.


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