Tuesday 21 November 2017

Heaslip banishes doubts to engineer final assault

Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip greeted by supporter Jennifer Malone, from Edenderry, Co. Offaly after the Blues’ PRO12 play-off match. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip greeted by supporter Jennifer Malone, from Edenderry, Co. Offaly after the Blues’ PRO12 play-off match. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Talent is a useless currency without experiencing the many hardships one must acquire to spend it.

Jamie Heaslip's office, for most of the week, is the Leinster gym, upon whose walls are assorted images from the province's brief professional existence.

Many are joyful - Edinburgh; Cardiff; London. Some, closer to home, are mournful.

This week, one caught Heaslip's attention with all the insistence of Mona Lisa's eyes. "Ospreys. Here. 31-30."

Shane Williams' final appearance, a final-minute try, a final defeat for Leinster on their RDS patch. A painful memory that hardly needs expression mounted on a wall; it is seared deep within.

Not that it infused doubt into Leinster. "If I saw anyone with doubt in their eyes I would have thrown them out of the dressing-room," growls the outstanding performer in Friday's 30-18 semi-final win against Ulster.

Les Kiss was right; his side had poked a collective bear. Leinster were a different animal. Defeat to their rivals three weeks earlier had not proved fatal to Leinster's title ambitions - the sides were destined to renew rivalry in the play-offs - but it had invoked anxiety.

Jonathan Sexton had publicly vocalised it in his inimitable style, posing intrinsic questions to his colleagues, young and old, about the squad's sullied sporting culture.

"Maybe some of the other guys had to understand what it takes to win in this competition," notes Heaslip. "And what it takes to be successful in general. Success just doesn't happen.


"You gotta work at it, day in, day out. You gotta live it. You basically got to commit to the professional life of a rugby player.

"I know there's a lot of lovely things that come with it. But there's a lot of stuff that comes with it which nobody sees. A lot of sacrifice, a lot of understanding from family and friends. Some lads just needed to see that.

"Johnny is a very emotional man," adds his occasional captain, respectfully. "He wears his heart on his sleeve. And he says what he feels."

Neutral observers got swept away by Leinster's definitive, invigorating opening quarter that provided the basis for maintaining the side's perfect semi-final record, and the third-quarter power-play that sealed it.

Leinster, though, will not.

"I've been playing this game long enough," observes the Irish No 8. "You shouldn't get carried away with the losses, or the wins. You can't go extreme.

"You need to waver somewhere in the middle and keep learning I suppose, keep evolving. That's what we're trying to do.

"When you look at the squad now, there are a lot of guys here who haven't won anything. Yet a lot of them have been involved and coming into an environment which has had a lot of success.

"They would have learned a lot in the last five years about what that takes because we've had success and failure, ups and downs. They've had to learn.

"Those guys, they live it, they see it, they breathe it every day and it's there where the senior guys like us have to lead and show by example.

"The last few weeks have been interesting to say the least. It can just get tasty at training, which is great.

"This shows the standard of the Pro12 and how exciting it can be. It was a bloody hard game and I presume it was a nice game to watch.

"After 30 minutes, I was questioning if I could play rugby any more it was so bloody fast.

"But that's where the standard is at and that's where you will learn. This is the tempo we have to play at the start and what we have to maintain all game, keep pushing it."

Irish Independent

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