On Saturday afternoon (ko 1:30 pm) Ireland commences its Six Nations campaign at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff against Grand Slam champions Wales under the captaincy of Jamie Heaslip from Naas, writes Dermot O’Mahony.
I caught up with Jamie last week just after he had returned to Ireland camp in Carton House and I asked him when and how he found out. “I was flying home from London,” he replied, “and I got a text from Decky (Ireland head coach Declan Kidney) asking me to meet him.
“I went straight to his room in the Four Seasons Hotel on arrival in Dublin, it was around 7:00 pm on Wednesday (the week before last) and he asked me would I like to be captain.
“I nearly bit the hand off him,” the new skipper went on, still with the excitement palpable in his voice.
I enquired about his captaincy experience, “I’ve captained Leinster on a number of occasions but no other team,” he stated in reference to his days playing mini rugby in Naas, as a schoolboy in Newbridge College followed by AIL in Trinity before graduating to the professional ranks.
Heaslip first captained Ireland during the Guinness Series last November in the tests against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina and described the experience as, “a proud humbling moment with a weighty responsibility.
“You are representing a group of players and the jersey is held in such high regard by fans and players alike.”
On the eve of the oldest international rugby tournament in the World I asked Jamie about ambitions and goals and the Grand Slam. “Our first aim is to get everyone familiar with the playbook by the end of the week, all singing off the same hymn sheet.
“It’s then the old cliché of ‘one game at a time’ and we’ll take it from there.”
With the Lions tour to Australia coming hot on the heels of the Six Nations I asked him if there is added pressure. “The Lions stuff is out of your hands, you can’t control getting selected for the squad, and you just do your job…”
Jamie goes on, “Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has a saying ‘you do every day’”.
I touched on the previous weekend’s exit from the Heineken Cup, “it was massively disappointing,” he said, “it’s only the second time since I started that we haven’t made the playoffs and it hurts.”
And looking back was there any one moment that cost them? “No one moment, we learned a harsh lesson,” he said. “The Clermont games killed us, we outscored them by two tries to one but we conceded 32 points from the boot.
“We gave away too many soft points over the two games. We’ll now have to focus on the Amlin Cup and the RaboDirect PRO12 but it’s difficult to even think that far ahead as we’re switched into Ireland mode right now and will be in that mind-set until mid-March.”
Jamie’s family are steeped in the game, “and they are delighted. My brother lives in London and he’s going to try and get to all the games. My sister lives there too and she’s going to go to as many as she can as well.”
Finally for any budding young rugby players a word of advice from the Ireland captain, “talent is nothing without discipline” while he also suggests, “not to be afraid of failing.”
Since making his debut for Ireland in November 2006 against the Pacific Islands at Lansdowne Road Jamie Heaslip has been capped 52 times for his country as well as being selected three times for the Lions in the 2009 test series in South Africa.
He has scored 35 points for Ireland and will be the Irish captain for the fourth time on Saturday when he leads his team against Wales in Cardiff.