Thursday 18 January 2018

Ireland captain the forgotten victim of Gatland's machete

Jamie Heaslip turns 30 in December
Jamie Heaslip turns 30 in December
Conor George

Conor George

WILL Jamie Heaslip still be playing international rugby in four years' time? And if he is, will he still be at a level that will secure him a place on a third Lions tour?

If the answer to either of those questions is a 'no', then Warren Gatland also brought the Ireland captain's Lions career to a premature end when he took a machete to the side that lost to Australia in last Saturday's second Test.

Heaslip (right) turns 30 in December, so it's entirely possible that his Lions career has also been sacrificed by a coach whose reputation will rise or fall on tomorrow's result.

If the Lions lose, the fallout will be nuclear. Gatland's every decision will be questioned, his loyalty to his Welsh players and coaches and his rudimentary tactics will be dissected and examined.

It will not be pretty.

If the Lions win, his decision to throw Brian O'Driscoll overboard will still be high on the agenda but he will be lauded for winning a first series in 16 years.

In that scenario, it is unlikely his other selection decisions will come under too much scrutiny but it should not be forgotten that Heaslip has started the Lions' last five Test matches, that he is the third most prolific line-out operator on this tour with 15 takes, and that he has made 42 tackles in his six appearances and scored a try.

In a battle of stats, those of Toby Faletau – who replaces him in the team – also make for impressive reading. He is credited with making 43 tackles – one more than Heaslip – beating 21 defenders with ball in hand and having 73 carries to Heaslip's 63.

At the start of the tour, Faletau was also the favourite to wear the No 8 shirt after what had been a difficult Six Nations campaign for Heaslip.

Heaslip, though, had found his stride through his European adventures with Leinster and was in spectacularly good form on tour. He also assumed a lot of responsibility at the breakdown in Paul O'Connell's absence.

In the first quarter last Saturday, the Leinster flanker turned over three quick ruck balls as the tourists initially enjoyed some dominance in this area.

There hasn't been the same furore over Heaslip's demotion because he has been replaced by a player who is equally as good. Yet it is difficult to see the logic in replacing him with a player who was deemed not good enough for a place even on the bench in the opening two Tests.

Where did Heaslip go so wrong last Saturday? He wasn't at his marauding best, but to be dropped out of the 23 seems excessive.

If anything, the men in red jerseys need to generate quicker ruck ball than they have been doing. Instead they are set up to attempt to run over Australia.

Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport