Wednesday 29 January 2020

New Zealand scalp is still on my list, insists Heaslip

Jamie Heaslip was on hand to launch
Jamie Heaslip was on hand to launch "Irish Rugby: What We Did Last Summer"

Jamie Heaslip is always quick to remind us that he doesn't look back on his achievements too often, but yesterday he sat back and relived a little bit of history.

At the small cinema in Dublin's Smithfield, he was treated to a sneak preview of an upcoming documentary about Ireland's historic win over South Africa last June.

Next week, he will be on board the plane to Chicago as Ireland look to create a bit more history at Soldier Field.

He sees the similarities, but with New Zealand going in search of a record 19 successive Test wins the Ireland vice-captain is expecting one of toughest outings of his long and storied career.

"Myself and Johnny, (Sexton) it kind of popped up in conversation last week when we were chatting away, and we said that it's going to be one of the most physically demanding games that we ever play in, whoever plays it," he said.

"One of the more mentally challenging games as well, trying to think your way through the game while you're playing it at 100mph, the way they play and the way we want to play.


"For that whole 80 minutes, it really is going to be a squad effort, and knowing all that with the small window that we have.

"There's a squad session this week, there's two full-pitch sessions next week, and one is a walk-through and then there'll be the captain's run, so really three pitch sessions to get ready for a team that's gone back-to-back at the World Cup, and just broken the record for the biggest winning streak.

"They are playing some amazing football, but what an opportunity if you do get the outcome."

Heaslip has faced the All Blacks seven times and has come close to winning twice without tasting any success.

In a career that has seen him claim a Grand Slam, three Heineken Cups and a Lions series win and much more, it is one of the last unchecked boxes.

In his recent book 'The Battle', Paul O'Connell said the 2013 near miss had left him flat, because an individual win in a one-off game didn't have the same significance as a piece of silverware.

Heaslip knows what his former team-mate is getting at, but would still cherish being part of the first Ireland team to beat the All Blacks.

"It wouldn't be the biggest (thing I've ever done), no. But it's definitely on my list," he said.

"I've been very lucky being part of teams that have achieved a lot, beating the All Blacks is still on my list of things not done and I would like to get that off the list of things to do. I was a bit annoyed that everyone (in 2013) said, 'Oh fair play to you, ye went toe to toe with them', but I was like, 'Yeah, we still lost' and I'm not ever going to pat myself on the back for losing. Not in this sport, not in this game.

"It was a tough pill to swallow but we take a lot of learnings from that. The lads who played in that game or were involved will take a lot of experience from it, just like the lads who played on the Tour, in a similar situation going there away from home, will take a lot of learnings from that."

So, what has he learnt from taking on the world's best team?

"You've got to play for 80, you've got to have a squad," he said.

"You've got to have 23 players all singing off the same hymn sheet, all knowing what they've got to do, and are mentally and physically ready for that intensity.

"I've played in two games where we've almost taken an All Blacks scalp but in both situations it boiled down to that last 10-minute window.

"And I think they're aware of that as well, but we know that in those two games, for example, that everyone accepted what they had to do, people coming off the bench knew exactly what they had to do and then when the game opened up we kind of kept to our systems and we didn't make mistakes and that's where we've got to be for the full 80 minutes, that's the learning from it.

"Easier said that done, they are a team that will punish you for mistakes and they don't give you too many opportunities, so when you're presented with them you have to be ready to take them.

"It sounds just like any other game, really, doesn't it?"

Irish Independent

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