Sunday 22 April 2018

Jamie Heaslip: You can't underestimate the Irish system

Jonathan Sexton kicks a conversion. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton kicks a conversion. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Player welfare was very much on the agenda yesterday as the newly re-branded International Rugby Players announced their move to Dublin with the help of some familiar faces.

Ireland's Grand Slam has tongues wagging across the Irish Sea and the player management system in operation here has been held up as one of the key factors in Joe Schmidt's side's success.

It isn't the only reason the team secured a third clean sweep in 137 years of trying, but it certainly helped, according to Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton.

"It's huge," recently retired No 8 Heaslip said.

"I don't think you can underestimate the system we have in place here versus the system that is in other countries, just the way the business model is set up here.

"It's all geared towards the national side, the clubs are owned by the national side so they can control how many minutes the players train and what's actually even more important is that they control the training-load of the player.

"All that data is centralised, they're able to monitor it very easily and seamlessly, and it plays a massive role in injury prevention but also freshness.

"The training load is a big window that I don't think people realise, because you're obviously training more than you play.

"It's been huge. Having been in the system for as long as I have and see it change over that time, I think it's a big edge that Ireland have and nations that have that model have.

"The other thing is that you don't have people who are paying lip service to it. You have people who are taking insights from it and using it.

"It's not perfect, no system is. There's a fine balance between all of it. It's a balancing act, it's not perfect. We're lucky that it definitely places an emphasis on having good squads, both at national level and provincial level.

"Take Leinster for example - they have 20-odd players that disappear off for eight weeks. That puts a massive emphasis on the rest of the squad and then there's the game in how you mesh these players back together when they come back from national came.

"There isn't a 'them and us' scenario, which was there when I first started playing for Leinster. That's not there at all now, it's absolutely seamless and that's another conversation about culture, which has changed."

Omar Hassanein, who has joined the international players body from Rugby Players Ireland, outlined the organisation's priorities at the event with training and playing load, agent regulation, improving the treatment of Pacific Island players and improving the women's game top of his list.

In a world where players in the top professional leagues are being pulled in different directions, Ireland's success is a potential example for them to hold up to the governing bodies, unions and club owners.

"We're very well looked after in Ireland, like in New Zealand where I believe they're extremely well looked after as well. I think it's the forefront of our thoughts and making sure and hope that countries that aren't managed so well start to become managed," Johnny Sexton (below) said.

"I would say (it's an advantage), definitely. When we finished the Lions tour we had roughly three weeks off, we had a six-week pre-season with a mini-break - three-week block, week off, three-week block - and then back into games.

"The English boys, I think, had three weeks' holidays and were straight in playing pre-season games; not great physical prep to turn around from a Lions tour.

"I have been on the other side of the fence before when I moved to France after the last Lions tour in 2013 where I had three weeks off, I think, and I played a pre-season friendly a week and a half, maybe two weeks later.

"It's not ideal preparation and it's a key reason why some of their players have been injured.

"It's not the only reason, but it would play a big part in that and I think our freshness told in this campaign compared to other countries."

Irish Independent

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