The consensus is that Jamie Heaslip has been playing better than ever.
Irish can take world champs Strong grip: Jamie Heaslip shows the strength and power which makes him a key player for the Irish in their opening match at the Aviva Stadium against South Africa
Since the season started the 6ft 3in, 17st 1lb Leinster, Ireland and Lions No 8’s form has been top notch.
As well as being an immensely powerful presence in the middle of the back row, Heaslip is a thinking footballer whose ability to read the game is as much a factor in his ability as any physical attribute.
“I think we can do a job,” is Heaslip’s reading of the challenge South Africa will present on Saturday evening when Ireland play their first international match at the Aviva Stadium. It will also be his first international outing since being sent off against New Zeland during the summer tour.
It’s a fixture which appears to tick every box for a Leinster man playing in the inaugural rugby international against the World Cup holders at Dublin’s showpiece stadium.
He reveals that it could be even better, however.
“I’d almost prefer it was in Naas to be honest. That’s my real home town; I’m not a Dub.
“I know Naas RFC would love to try and cater for it at Forenaughts,” the big Kildare man smiles.
At that he becomes serious.
“No, the new stadium is unbelievable. I played there a few weeks ago against Munster in the Magners League and it was incredible. That was a 60-40 split, but in an Ireland home game you’re going to be getting 80-20 if not 90-10 and believe me, that will be intimidating.
“And loud — very loud,” Heaslip says. “I think people are going to be surprised at just how loud it is. In that match against Munster it was hard to hear the referee call the scrum.
“The crowd are right on top of you so there’s no escape. It’s a great ampitheatre. As well as the atmosphere the pitch is superb and the facilities are the best I have ever been in.”
This note, from a man who has graced the major international grounds north and south of the equator as an Irish and Lions player.
“With things a lot more efficient for everybody, you can concentrate on what you’re there to do,” he added. “If all these little things can help you towards achieving 100 per cent we’ll take that.”
The prospect of four successive weekends of international action does not unnerve Heaslip who believes that the squad is in good nick. He highlights the part played by the four proud provinces of Ireland.
“Ireland is tribal so when we play for our clubs we’re looking after our own patches,” said Heaslip. “But when we come together it’s to look after the island so there’s a lot of proud Irishmen when it comes to pulling on the green jersey.
“Declan (Kidney) has concentrated on building a good squad over the past few years and I think all the clubs involved in the national side have all really concentrated — because they have to in view of the nature of the season and the number of games involved — on doing the same.
“That has fed into the national system and as a result we have a really healthy, competitive squad. That’s certainly going to be tested over the next four weeks.
“We’ve got four tough games ahead of us and inevitably there will be knocks and bangs. You can’t have the same 15 guys going through all four games given the physicality of the game.”
His personal view is that there is no substitute for time on the pitch, although he concedes that rotation and rest are essential.
“A player wants to play so maybe sometimes you have to protect him from himself,” he said.