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'I've said and done things wrong; I've learnt from it'

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Jamie Heaslip celebrated the launch of the new MaxiNutrition online shop for Irish consumers with a 'Maxi' inspired Pop-Up restaurant at his BEAR restaurant yesterday. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Jamie Heaslip celebrated the launch of the new MaxiNutrition online shop for Irish consumers with a 'Maxi' inspired Pop-Up restaurant at his BEAR restaurant yesterday. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Jamie Heaslip celebrated the launch of the new MaxiNutrition online shop for Irish consumers with a 'Maxi' inspired Pop-Up restaurant at his BEAR restaurant yesterday. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The way Jamie Heaslip tells it, there wasn't much of a conversation when Matt O'Connor pulled him to one side after a weights session and handed him the Leinster captaincy.

The exchange was brief between the coach and his new skipper as the No8 accepted the offer, downed a protein shake and headed for the next session.

The changing of the guard from Leo Cullen to the Naas native seemed somewhat inevitable. Heaslip has been filling in for the second row during the last couple of seasons and was the obvious choice.

At 30, he is in familiar territory having led his country on a number of occasions, most memorably during the disappointing 2012/13 season.

Having gone through that experience, this son of a colonel believes he is ready to lead.

"I feel a lot more at ease," he says of the difference between now and then.

"The thing I found most difficult is the TV interview you do straight afterwards. It was literally coming off the field and it would catch you off guard at times. It was the weirdest moment of the whole thing.

"It was a tough year for us that year. We didn't have great success bit I loved every minute of it at the same time."

He is not, he says, a shouter and roarer and prefers to lead by example. As a player who prides himself on his consummate professionalism, the 30-year-old says he is keen to learn from those around him as well as take things from those he has played under to date.

"You've all met Leo and I am very different to Leo," he explained.

"I would have a different style; some guys like that, others don't but one thing that I don't think people can hold against me is they can't say I'm not a good professional.

"That's what I want to be about and want others to be about, you try and back it up on the day if you can.

"There are qualities in different people, you know? Leo is great, you might only hear one thing out of him during a whole week, but when he speaks people listen. It's a real good nugget of information.

"He had a calm demeanour, with logical thinking - quite process-focused - some people like that and others wouldn't. He took no bulls*** either.

"Someone like Brian (O'Driscoll), if ever there was a guy who epitomised putting your body on the line, there's your guy.

"I'm quite lucky that I had those two in the club for so long, but there's other guys like Rob (Kearney), like Sean (O'Brien) and younger guys like Rhys Ruddock and Jack McGrath, there are plenty of guys you admire.

"I've no problem asking guys what they think about an issue, I'm not... there's lots of s*** I don't know. I've said or done things that are wrong, that I shouldn't have; I've learnt from it. I can't profess that I know the be all and end all. I'm always leaning on other guys."

Calm

Last Saturday, Heaslip showed little signs of rust as he claimed a man of the match award in his first outing of the season as his Leinster side cruised past the Scarlets.

The season stretches out before him laced with potential and with the World Cup looming large at the end.

On his television debut, O'Driscoll admitted the loss to Wales in the 2011 quarter-final was the one game he would wish to play again and it sounds like he's not the only one.

Heaslip is not usually one for regrets or recriminations, hailing from the Enda McNulty school of positive thought, but, as he recalls Wellington, there is a sense of what might have been.

"I know last time there was a good bit of frustration in terms of the fact we could have and should have beaten Wales on the day," he said.

"There were two or three silly, basic errors that cost us tries on the lot of frustration after that game.

"Even with that we still could have won the game in a weird sort of way because we were in it. We were either just ahead or behind at half-time (they were 10-3 down), but we came out and scored a try just after half-time.

"There was a lot of frustration among guys who knew that was their last World Cup and I know a lot of guys would have high hopes of pushing on and getting further."

When the World Cup rolls around he will be "playing to win", but there is plenty of rugby to be played before Ireland kick off in 366 days time.

First up, is a trip west to the Sportsground where unbeaten Connacht lie in wait. For some Leinster players, the venue conjures up nightmares but Heaslip has only lost once there and has good memories of the Galway ground.

"I've been going to the Sportsground since I was 14, 15, my brother used to play for Connacht and I've seen it change over years from what it used to be back then, it's quite different.

"I enjoy going there. On a dry day it's beautiful. It's a really nice pitch and the way they've built the new stand around it, nothing really escapes from it in terms of atmosphere."

Tomorrow night should see the season step up a notch. By the sounds of things, Leinster's captain is ready.

Irish Independent