Wednesday 19 December 2018

Heaslip always performed under pressure - Schmidt

Kiwi hails impact of long-serving No 8 in decorated career

Jamie Heaslip receives instructions from Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip receives instructions from Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Many tributes have been paid to Jamie Heaslip since he announced his retirement on Monday, but none has been as detailed as the one Joe Schmidt delivered yesterday.

The head coach is known for his forensic analysis of the game and went through the former No 8's strengths one by one in a fascinating insight into the level of detail he goes into in assessing players.

Schmidt had expected to have Heaslip on board until the 2019 World Cup. He signed a two-year deal just over a year ago, but was struck down by a back problem in the warm-up for the final Six Nations game against England and never played again.

"Inevitably there are some real pressure points in games and Jamie doesn't really do pressure points, he does opportunities. His outlook on how to solve problems was that, 'this is great, let's get a solution here'," Schmidt said when asked what Ireland have lost with the Naas native's retirement.

"His calm on the pitch when you have got young players is really important and I think we have Pete (O'Mahony) and CJ (Stander) starting to extend that to the likes of the Jack Conans, Dan Leavys.

Challenge

"Josh van der Flier has it all on is own, he is a young man, he is calm and loves any opportunity, any challenge on the pitch.

"But Jamie, he sees all those things as challenges, he also sees the game very well.

"I know he got World (Rugby) Try of the Year and if you look at that from the rear angle he is almost last up out of a ruck on our 22m, the ball goes to the edge, there is some inter-play between Simon Zebo, Jared Payne, Fergus McFadden gets involved and then he is tracking right up the pitch exactly where we need him to be.

"He does see the game very well and he had that big engine that allowed him, not just to see it, but put himself in a position to contribute to it and that was always crucial.

"He was incredibly good at the rolling maul. If he had a corner, he was so tough to shift.

"He was really good at leading the scrum. I know leading the scrum when you are at the back of it doesn't quite make sense.

"For us, it is still a really important position.

"There were just those aspects of his game. He would jump for us at the front of the lineout quite often and was skilful there, very reliable, handling wise.

"That ability across the full spectrum of what's required in a player, his decision-making in defence.

"You've got seeing the game late and then making the decision to catch up.

"Jamie would see the game, predict what would happen next, so that he could get in a position to contribute either side of the ball whether it's scoring that try or getting back and making that tackle on Stuart Hogg.

"He had a habit. People say, 'it was lucky Jamie was there'. Not according to Jamie. Not according to us.

"You get lucky sometimes. He managed to have a knack of it.

"That probably becomes an ability to read the game more than luck."

Schmidt also hailed Heaslip's durability.

"Over half his professional career he's had to have me chipping away at him," he said.

"The best thing about Jamie is that he chipped away at himself, he chiselled himself into one of the best players that I think exists in world rugby.

"He's always been in the leadership group, in Leinster as well, captained the side a couple of times, continuously supporting Paulie (O'Connell) when he was captain, supported Rory (Best) equally.

"It was great because he was so often an 80-minute player. I think in 95 Test matches, 72 of them were 80 minutes. That is massive in the modern day.

"For Jamie, it was great to have that security. The hooker might often come out after 60 minutes and Jamie was in those last quarters, those last quarters that probably haven't been nailed on, Jamie would boss those last quarters and do a good job of it.

"For all sorts of reasons, I think he's a loss to Irish rugby. I know Jamie, he prepares incredibly well so I've no doubt he will make a success of another career. "

Irish Independent

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