Jamie Heaslip: 'There are lads seriously p****d off they are not involved'
Captain confident Leinster are ready for quarter-final clash with Bath despite a lack of preparation time
THERE was a confidence about how Jamie Heaslip addressed this weekend's task at yesterday's press conference that reminded those listening just how experienced the Ireland players who have returned to the Leinster fold are.
They'll need every ounce of that experience against Bath, having not pulled on a blue jersey since the last time the province were in European action last January.
The inclusion of Rob Kearney, Sean O'Brien, Devin Toner, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross and Heaslip would strengthen any match-day 23, but the problem for Matt O'Connor is that his team have not played together for so long.
Given that so many of the Leinster squad are involved with Ireland, there will be plenty of cohesion, but the two teams play a different way despite the similar personnel, and their ability to pull it all together over the course of the last week will be key.
Yesterday, the captain called a 'game managers' meeting and spent some time reflecting with Rob Kearney on quarter-finals past, particularly the win over Harlequins in 2009. He explained that the key to victory in the heat of battle is that players know their jobs.
"Once we're there we don't want too many chiefs on the field. We want lads to get the call, know the call, go out and execute, do their job," the 31-year-old explained.
"That's the game right there. Now it boils down into your head-space in terms of winning that collision, your attitude in regard to that, but that's a different element to the game."
Given the time constraints involved, O'Connor brought his side to Powerscourt, Co Wicklow for a two-day mini-camp to try and accelerate the integration process.
"We've front-loaded the week so that the end of the week is about letting it out. . . we've trained really well, there's a good edge about lads always in European week," Heaslip said. "There's always a little bit of a bite and it's up there this week, and lads are excited.
"There's competition within the squad in terms of different battles throughout the field to get into the squad and the guys who are simulating Bath for us as well, they're really putting it to us because they're p***ed off they're not involved.
"But they want the club to do well so they're putting their best foot forward to kind of relate that theme of the forwards generating space for the guys out wide.
"Yeah it's been a great week, we're in a great place and everyone's just really excited. Like, playing in the Aviva with 40,000-plus fans is a pretty cool place to be. I think everyone wants to be there and that's why there's so much competition."
While he famously doesn't look back in anger, Heaslip says that there are lessons to be taken from last season's defeat to Toulon.
"In any conversations I have had about it, it gave lads experience of what happens when you're not accurate," the No 8 said.
"At this stage of the competition you are going up against sides that are bloody good. Like, Bath lose their first two games and still make the quarter-finals - that hasn't been done before. You go up against Toulon and make the sort of mistakes we did, especially in that first half, they are going to score tries and Bath are not that dissimilar.
"I rarely look back but when those conversations pop up that's how it tends to go for me in terms of the realisation about what's it like to have experience at this level?
"It's knowing that you're coming up against sides, (a standard that's) borderline with international rugby. This competition just keeps getting better and better every year.
"It amazes me that it does and that margin for error on both sides of the ball is closing.
"Unfortunately we have a very bitter taste in our mouth from last year, from knowing that if we're not accurate we're not going to score."
Much will come down to the Ireland contingent, but there is a new face in the mix who will make an impact.
Ben Te'o looks likely to make his European debut tomorrow against his former Rabbitohs team-mate Sam Burgess, and his coach is backing him to make an impact in the biggest game of his union career.
"Ben has been brilliant," O'Connor said of the rugby league convert.
"He is a fast learner. He suffered that setback with the broken arm early on but he is getting better and better every time he plays for us. He is a genuine threat every time he gets the ball and understands the defensive dynamics very well from his rugby league days.
"He's got some work to do, no question, but he is a physical presence for us and gives us a good luxury to have in that slot."
Read more: Cullen braced for 'tricky' Bath
Read more: Huge chance to make amends for Toulon