Nerveless would be one way to describe Jamie Heaslip. Here we sit two days out from the biggest match of the club rugby year and the first words out of Heaslip’s mouth at this press conference are “No sambo’s guys?”
Then again we should not be surprised as this mellow attitude that Heaslip operates under has allowed him to take such pressurized weeks in his stride. He is well used to such weeks.
At only 27 years old Heaslip is already a Grand Slam winner with Ireland, a Heineken Cup winner with Leinster and a capped member of the 2009 British and Irish Lions.
Not a bad return for a player who four years ago was deemed surplus to requirements in Eddie O’Sullivan’s World Cup squad. Since then Heaslip has fashioned himself into one of the best No 8 in the world and a huge cog in the Ireland team.
Heaslip made his Leinster debut in 2005. A year later he gained his first cap for Ireland when he debuted against the Pacific Islanders. Heaslip also has the honour of been the 1000th player to wear the Irish jersey.
There is an edge to Heaslip that people are drawn to. Be it the colourful boots he wears on the pitch or a tongue piercing he sports there is the sense with Heaslip that once the game is over it’s time to relax. But when the whistle blows there is no fiercer competitor in European rugby.
That competitive spirit landed him in hot water last summer when during a tour of New Zealand he was sent off minutes into the game for hitting All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in a ruck. The intense media coverage that followed Heaslip after the incident was as he put it “insane”
Aside from that one incident his stature has grown for both province and country. He has skippered Leinster on a number of occasions and has been talked about as a future Ireland captain. He has grown into the leadership role and it suits him well.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s clash Heaslip adopts his normal attitude to any other game “I’m looking forward to it. I’m fairly relaxed about it at this stage. The most important thing we can do is focus on ourselves and the details of the job in hand”
He also pointed out how much the squad ethos in the last number of years has helped Leinster kick on from the initial Heineken Cup success in 2009 “When Rocky (Elsom) was here he did great. I learned a lot from him. But when he left Kev came in and took his chance along with Sean O’Brien. But the squad as a whole have really pushed each other on and there is a great squad ethos at present”
When the Northampton team were looking at their video analysis of Heaslip they must have been wondering how can they stop him. At 6’3” and weighing 109kg Heaslip is the archetypal No 8. He is strong, fiercely competitive at the breakdown and can make line breaks at will.
For Leinster he is a huge part of their success. This season he has made 17 appearances in the Heineken Cup scoring three tries. He may not score the winning try this coming Saturday but every Leinster fan will know that Heaslip will leave everything that he has inside him on that pitch in Cardiff and hopefully add a second Heineken Cup medal to his growing collection of silverware.