Sunday 21 January 2018

'If you are an Irishman you'd even want to beat England at tiddlywinks' - Jamie Heaslip

Jamie Healsip is relishing chance to play England
Jamie Healsip is relishing chance to play England
David Kelly

David Kelly

Eddie Jones' enthusiasm for launching verbal ammunition across the airwaves this week matches his team's eagerness to put boot to ball.

Amongst many other things, he has helpfully reiterated that everyone is allowed to hate the English. Which is nice. But it is also a primal emotion that cannot possibly be freighted into any cold-blooded, pragmatic plan to win a game of football. Or can it?

Even if not outwardly emoted, it remains an intangible, irrepressible, irreplaceable element which remains firmly entrenched in this most ancient rivalry.

Stephen Ferris is, sadly, no longer around to remind us about how the English are "bad losers", nor Donnacha O'Callaghan to point out that the red rose on an English shirt is akin to a red rag before a bull.

Jamie Heaslip believes Ireland can bounce back from the defeat in Paris DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE
Jamie Heaslip believes Ireland can bounce back from the defeat in Paris DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE

Mercifully, the often sterile nature of international rugby cannot but yield to the effusive sentiment that resides within this unique fixture.

"It's England, Twickenham," agrees Jamie Heaslip, who has faced England on nine occasions and won just three; five of those meetings were in London, and he emerged victorious just once, in 2010.

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"If you can't get motivated for a game like this, get out of the changing-room. If you are an Irishman and you're playing tiddlywinks against an Englishman, or chess or Scrabble, you want to beat him. You know what I mean?

"It is very easy to be motivated. In terms of the results we've had so far also being a motivating factor, one loss and one draw, I've been in that situation before.

"There is a core, not many, who have been in this situation before. We know which way it can go. We've got to be prepared. We're pretty motivated, pretty driven for this opportunity."

Jamie Heaslip also shined
Jamie Heaslip also shined

Conor Murray, worryingly, has already this week spoken of a "fear factor" within a squad who entered this championship with their coach predicting, and now fully engaged in, mid-table mediocrity.

England, in stark contrast and echoing Ferris' historic claims of arrogance, are well, arrogant, if their coach's trash talk is to be believed; he demanded they give Italy a "good hiding" and, eventually, they did.

Mindset will be key to the respective aspirations this weekend before each side approach the relentlessly brutal physical battle.

"I don't know if we're ever fearful of an opposition or particular grounds," counters Heaslip. "They're a good side. They've a very good home record. We haven't won there since, what, 2010, I think someone said to me. I remember Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls getting tries that day.

"We're not fearful, but we do have to have the mindset that if we don't take the opportunities that we're creating, then we'll be putting ourselves under pressure against a very good side.

"They are a very good side, with good ball players, good athletes, really good guys who control their game and direct them around the field, and with a good defensive system, so we're going to have our work cut out for us."

Devin Toner agrees, although swerves away from the "hatred" trope.

"It's always going to be the big game, old rivals," he avers. "I'm not going to say there's hatred, but there's a little bit extra there, and it's always going to be there. It's our biggest game so far, it's must-win for us. So there's added spice from that too."

Aside from personnel issues, winless Ireland head to the Grand Slam chasing English with obvious question marks surrounding their back-row balance, their scrum and their pitifully profligate attack.

Heaslip's primary responsibility is ballasting the scrum - he has been manful behind so many retreating set-pieces of late - and he brushes off suggestions that Mike Ross and Cian Healy will necessarily improve upon the debacle in Paris, which ultimately cost Ireland the endgame.


"I'm more worried about the collective," he says when asked to assess the return to fitness of his Leinster colleagues.

"So far, we've had pretty good players who've been on the field. If other players come in, they slot in but the game-plan doesn't change.

"I'm very confident in our scrum. We've probably got to be a bit more streetwise, I suppose, around it, but I've full confidence in it. It's a massive part of the game.

"It's probably the best platform to attack off, and that's why you've got to put so much time into it and so much effort into it, and how you defend around it, especially five-metre scrums.

"You don't want too give too many penalties away because refs have no problem giving a penalty try. But we've got to enforce our own kind of dominance on it as well and we've been working towards that."

Ireland need a scrum to play; also, their breakdown, which Heaslip analysed in clinical detail which hints at a radical change in direction.

Outside the camp, the "white noise" continues; Heaslip would hardly have expected his old mucker Brian O'Driscoll to produce some of it. "For Leinster, he's criticised us quite a bit," he says pointedly.

He has also criticised Ireland's unwillingness to off-load.

"I wouldn't agree completely with Brian's comment," adds Heaslip. "But, he's obviously entitled to his opinion. As a pundit, he has to offer up an opinion and this is his."

Irish Independent

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