Heaslip unfazed by captaincy snub
Published 07/11/2013 | 13:46
Jamie Heaslip is unfazed at being overlooked for Ireland's full-time captaincy.
New head coach Joe Schmidt has named talisman lock Paul O'Connell as his skipper for the impending autumn series.
Heaslip has been installed as vice-captain - but will actually take the armband in Saturday's Samoa clash at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.
Number eight Heaslip has relinquished the permanent leadership role he fulfilled during Ireland's Six Nations under Declan Kidney last season.
No sooner had he ceded the honour to second row O'Connell though, he found himself back in command.
Munster's 34-year-old totem O'Connell is still recovering from calf trouble, and is not deemed fit to start against the South Sea islanders on Saturday.
O'Connell takes a seat on the bench, leaving Leinster loose forward Heaslip back in immediate charge.
Admitting the captaincy was a 'tough decision', Schmidt also confirmed Jonathan Sexton has been left out of Saturday's squad as a precaution against his ongoing hip complaint.
Racing Metro fly-half Sexton is expected to be fit for Ireland's Australia clash on November 16.
Heaslip pledged to lead or follow with equal ambition.
The 29-year-old explained: "Obviously you would like to be captain all the time, but Joe made the decision he did.
"I'm really proud at being vice-captain, really proud of when I was captain during the Six Nations, and I'm proud of the chance I'm getting this week to lead the team out.
"There were probably as many as eight candidates for the captaincy, and in my experience of successful teams, it's not any one player that's the leader, it's the group, the core, that's really important in terms of showing how we do our business.
"Joe said 'this is what we're doing, would you like to be vice captain'.
"I jumped at it with both hands, then went straight over to Paul, shook his hand and said 'congrats skip'.
"I'm delighted for Paul, he doesn't change in what he says or what he does, whether he's captain or not.
"I'm really looking forward to the challenge of leading the team out this week, then hopefully I'll get the chance to step out behind Paul - both are a great honour.
"Just as long as the team go well I'm a very happy man."
Decorated British Lions centre Brian O'Driscoll would have been firmly in that eight-strong captaincy shake-up.
But Heaslip confirmed the 34-year-old ruled himself out of the running.
O'Driscoll has pledged to retire at the end of the season - but Heaslip joked it is not worth ruling out a change of heart.
He continued: "You never know with Brian, there could be chance for one more year after this season.
"Is he going to go as long as Simon Shaw or Brad Thorne even? He's maybe counting on that!
"I suppose the decisions he's made haven't been easy, but he thinks quite a lot outside of himself.
"A lot has changed for him since even this time last year; he has a kid to think about as well, there's a big life outside of rugby when you finish up too."
Elsewhere in Schmidt's first seletion, Paddy Jackson got the nod to start at fly-half in Sexton's absence.
O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy win selection in the centres - meaning the midfield duo will rack up a combined 200 caps when they step out at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Fast-developing Leinster front-rower Jack McGrath will win his first cap at loosehead prop against the Samoans. The 24-year-old was called up to the Emerging Ireland squad to play in May's Tbilisi Cup, the inaugural round-robin tournament also including Georgia, a South Africa President's XV and Uruguay.
Schmidt has also named versatile Leinster back-three Dave Kearney on the bench, who will win his first cap if he takes the field.
Kearney could even line up alongside brother and starting full-back Rob, if he comes on at wing.