In the past few months Jamie Heaslip has been somewhat pushed out of the spotlight. It’s not that the No 8 has completely disappeared from the hearts of Leinster and Ireland fans, but another figure has stolen some of his limelight. His six-month-old British Bulldog, who goes by the name Jay-Z, has such a cult following that there is now a growing demand for him to have his own accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
The new addition has settled in well to Heaslip’s life. During the RBS 6 Nations it was easy enough for him to pop home from Ireland’s nearby base to see his dog, while queues of people are offering to take care of Jay-Z when Heaslip goes to the World Cup this autumn.
And Heaslip wants to take advantage of some of the high-octane activities that New Zealand has to offer to keep him occupied in the absence of his beloved pet. When Ireland toured Down Under last summer, a thrill-seeking group of players, including Heaslip, did a bungee jump off Auckland Bridge and he hopes that there will be similar opportunities this year to keep cabin fever at bay.
The off-pitch entertainment, says the 27-year-old, will be a crucial factor in the team’s success in the competition. He has never played in a World Cup and is champing at the bit at the thought of taking on rugby’s best teams come September. But he has already been warned by his older team-mates about how testing the tournament will be.
“Guys have said the World Cup’s a tough, long haul. There’s a long pre-season, with a lot of camps, and then the World Cup itself,” says Heaslip. “For the tour last summer we went to the same spots where we’ll be for the World Cup. It was good to get a feel for where we’re going to be, so we know what to expect. Keeping yourselves amused is the key because you’re away from home and you don’t have the creature comforts of your own house.”
Still, Heaslip is bulldozing towards RWC 2011 with a typically positive outlook, and is confident in Ireland’s ability to not just be a competitive force but to win the trophy. Ireland’s results have been patchy of late, and Heaslip admits that the squad used the defeat to Scotland in the final game of last year’s Six Nations as motivation before achieving that thumping win over England this year, which has given them a boost before the World Cup.
“We had a bad taste in the mouth last year after losing the last game of the Six Nations and we didn’t want to have that same bad taste after this year’s tournament,” admits Heaslip. “The next Tests for Ireland are the World Cup warm-ups and then the World Cup, and we wanted to set our stall out and go on from there.
“I’m looking forward to getting over there and trying to win the bloody thing. Make no bones about it, we’re not going over there to make up numbers; I’m going over to win and so is everyone else in that squad and the fact that we’ve never won it before doesn’t mean we can’t do it.
“The fact that we’ve never beaten New Zealand doesn’t bother us in the slightest. We’ll keep on knocking on that door. It’ll be made all the sweeter if we have to beat them in the final.”
Having been kept on the sidelines by an ankle injury at the start of the Six Nations, Heaslip’s Leinster team-mate Sean O’Brien stepped into his No 8 jersey for Ireland’s opening game against Italy and went on to impress at blindside in the rest of the championship. But Heaslip doesn’t feel pressurised by the emergence of up-and-coming stars and says such talent within the country can only be a positive thing.
“I’ll always back myself,” he says. “That’s all I can do and I’m not too pushed about worrying about anyone else. We’re lucky in Leinster where we’re constantly bringing through new talents. Seany got a chance and grabbed it with both hands. We’ve also had people like Rhys Ruddock involved with the national squad, and Dominic Ryan, Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley. We’ve a load of guys within Leinster coming through and it’s good because it creates competition in the squad, and competition is always good to push on guys.”
Heaslip turned down a number of lucrative offers from abroad to commit to Leinster until 2014 and the province’s desire for success was a key factor in his decision. Leinster dominated their Heineken Cup pool to reach the knockout stages this season and they have also been a constant presence at the top end of the Magners League table.
“The set-up we have puts us in a position to remain competitive for the next few years. We’ve a really good brand, and we can improve on the culture we’ve created. I play to win and we’ve shown what we can do in Leinster. There’s a lot more cups we can win.”
What’s good for Leinster is good for Ireland. Irish fans will be hoping that the provincial form and positive attitude of Heaslip and his team-mates will rub off on the national team this autumn.
This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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