Tuesday 20 February 2018

Video: Jamie Heaslip relishing Parisse duel as he warns of 'tall task' in Rome

Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

Jamie Heaslip is anxious to sound a note of caution ahead of Ireland's trip to the Stadio Olimpico because his most recent memory of the Italian capital is far from pleasant.

Ireland's 22-15 defeat, their first against the Italians in 13 years, marked the end of the Declan Kidney era and was one of the darkest days in Irish rugby since the turn of the century.

Things have changed utterly since then for Ireland, but the problems the Italians can cause are plentiful, and the national vice-captain is wary.

"We lost to Italy the last time we were there and I remember it all too well. They'll pose a massive threat," he said. "Italy get better and better every year and it's off the back of the clubs being in the Pro12 and all their individuals playing well in all the leagues they're in.

"It's a tall task to try and go over there and get a result."

Like all elite sports people, the 31-year-old Kildare man enjoys pitting himself against the world's best and No 8s don't come much better than Sergio Parisse.

The Italian captain will want to lay down a marker, especially with a World Cup meeting at the Olympic Stadium in mind and memories of the 46-7 thumping they took at the Aviva last year on their minds, and Heaslip is looking forward to the challenge.

"I'd love the chance to go up against Parisse next week, he has been, for a number of years now, consistently one of the best No 8s in the world," he added.

"He is a massive leader for them, the core of the team, and he's a great bloke off the field. You always want to pit yourself up against players like that."

Unusually for Heaslip, he got the curly finger at around the hour mark in Leinster's victory over Castres and the crucial draw at the Ricoh Arena over the past two weekends, but his "Wolverine blood", as he put it himself previously, has kicked in again and he has declared himself 100pc fit for action.

"I'm flying it these days seen as I've only played two 60-minute games, I'm used to playing 80 minutes games," he said.

"I'm fine and dandy, I still haven't missed a game yet, so the Wolverine blood is going well."

Since September, Heaslip has escaped the need to tip-toe around Cian Healy while he sleeps, but his regular room-mate is back and the return of Iain Henderson, who had impressive seasonal return in Ulster's victory over Leicester at the weekend, and Sean O'Brien is back throwing his weight around at Carton House.

Heaslip continued: "I haven't roomed with 'Church' (Healy) since September, even in Leinster I usually room with him, so it was great to see him sleeping on the floor again.

"We stay in the nicest hotels in the world and he always stays on the floor, and the weirdest thing is that when they come in to make your room up, they make his bed on the floor.

"It's great to have Hendy, Seanie, it's great to have Luke (Fitzgerald) back in the environment as well. He's been in sensational form for Leinster.

"Seanie is biting at the bit, as bullish as ever in training, and Cian is like a caged animal that they all keep poking a stick at. They're all in good spirits and raring to go.

"Seanie hasn't played a lot of rugby in the last two years and Cian isn't used to this amount of period off and as he said himself, he felt like a professional weight-lifter the last while, because he was so limited."

Another man who is back in the fold but will sit out the Rome test is Jonathan Sexton.

Dubbed 'Johnny Vacances' at Racing Metro, Sexton's 12-week lay-off following his fourth concussion of 2014 against the Wallabies is coming to end and, although Heaslip is looking forward to teaming up with him again, he is also bracing himself for a famous Sexton rollicking in training.

"He's always giving out about something, but is great to see the old rat around the place," he said.

* Ireland’s leading sports nutrition brand, MaxiNutrition is supporting Jamie Heaslip to be at his best in 2015 #MyGoal. Set your goal at www.maxishop.com

Irish Independent

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