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'We know we have to be on the top of our game to beat a side like England'

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Ireland's Jamie Heaslip during squad training ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England on Saturday

Ireland's Jamie Heaslip during squad training ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England on Saturday

SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Jamie Heaslip during squad training ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England on Saturday

THERE are certain films you don't expect to come up in conversation with international rugby players, but Jamie Heaslip has always been that little bit different.

That's why nobody batted an eyelid when, in describing the Irish fans' ability to raise their voices from the four corners of Twickenham to drown out the 'Chariot', he referenced '80s chick-flick 'Dirty Dancing' and the late Patrick Swayze's immortal line "Nobody puts baby in the corner".

The Ireland vice-captain has never been the most orthodox of rugby stars, but he does seem to understand what makes the Six Nations great and articulate it better than most others.

Before Ireland's win over Wales, he spoke of the friendships between fans on both sides of the divide and of the relationship that had grown between Adam Jones' parents and his own over the course of their careers.

SURROUNDINGS

And, when yesterday he was asked about his experiences around Twickenham – a venue where he has played three times for Ireland and won once (2010) – the Naas native appeared able to drink in his surroundings while also focusing on the job in hand.

Like a lot of college graduates of the 2000s, Heaslip has friends and family in London; his sister lives in Richmond and he spent part of Christmas in the English capital. Things will be different this weekend, but the 30-year-old still has a sense of the occasion and he seems determined to enjoy it.

"In terms of grounds around the world I really like it," he said. "Big stadium, people surprisingly close to you ... I really like when you pull in on the bus and see all the people out; it's like Aintree or something.

"They're all out having their tea and their Pimms out of the back of their Range Rovers – quite proper, like a posh tailgate party. They have that walk into the changing-rooms, which I just love, everyone's there – at the Aviva you don't see anyone until you come out of the tunnel. But there you get that sense of anticipation and excitement floating in the air, and it gets you giddy.

"The English crowd are passionate about their rugby, you hear 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' but then every so often you hear 'Ireland's Call' or 'Fields of Athenry'.

"They put us in the corners – it's like Dirty Dancing, 'Don't put baby in the corner ... ' It's a very healthy rivalry, the Six Nations is great for that kind of banter. The England game, whether it's at Twickenham or at the Aviva, goes up a level, it's really exciting.

"I have a lot of family over there, my sister lives in Richmond with her husband, they have a pre-match lunch and they walk from their house to the game, stopping for a couple of wet ones along the way. It's just a really good fixture to play in and go to."

After two games in six days, the Irish team laid low last week and let the English do the talking ahead of the Triple Crown decider.

The weather-hit Clonmel camp saw the team train in atrocious conditions and even lose electricity in their hotel, but the core objectives of moving on from Wales and improving for the meeting with England were achieved.

"On Wednesday we were down in Clonmel in that storm and we couldn't even have trained without a rugby ball, it was so cold and windy," he said of the stormy time in Tipperary.

"We looked at the video of the Wales game and whatever we might have thought about patting ourselves on the back after the Wales game, Joe quickly put that out and so he should. He showed us a lot of stuff that we did wrong, that we weren't accurate with.

"Then he showed us what England are all about, and they're definitely a side who are well-drilled, execute really well and punish you if you make mistakes. That's the difference at this level. On the Thursday before the pitch session we reviewed England looking ahead – we know we have to be on top of our game to beat a quality side like them."

Having outplayed his former Lions rival Taulupe Faletau last weekend, the in-form No 8 now faces the sizeable proposition of Tongan extraction in Billy Vunipola this time around.

They came up against each other in Leinster's Challenge Cup quarter-final win over Wasps last season, but the English international was brought on too late to have an impact on the result even if he did leave a mark.

"I remember coming off the pitch and saying to him I thought he should have maybe started and had a bigger impact on the game," Heaslip said.

WEIGHT

"He's a big boy – 126kg I think, he's got a lot of weight behind him. He carries quite a bit for them. He's hard to take down. He gets them a lot of go-forward so we're going to have our hands full kind of marking him, trying to cut him down as well as the rest of them in the pack. He'd be a big ball-carrier for them.

"It's not a personal battle at all. I'm more interested in the team winning. I think you pay people the respect they're due and he's due respect but you can't focus in on one person.

"If you do that someone else gets a lot more space. You've got to know, you do your video work with the team, your player profile stuff. You pay them respect due."

Heaslip has always used his fancy footwork to get around the bigger forwards and will be looking to keep Ireland going forward in the tight spaces on Saturday, while cancelling out the English pack's influence so that the backs outside can have lift-off.

If they can do all of that and silence the Twickenham crowd, then the Irish fans will clear their throats and have the time of their lives.

Irish Independent