Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Jamie armed for Ireland skipper job

Jamie Heaslip could be the man to lead the next generation of Ireland players

For Ireland's newest captain, honour and humility can be only minutes apart. Jamie Heaslip may have been on cloud nine when his phone rang in Tesco on Baggot Street in Dublin and Declan Kidney informed him he was to become the latest wearer of the cherished armband.

But it didn't take long for his dad to take him to the cleaners after his proud son informed him of the fact that Ireland's 1001st international player was soon to become its 101st captain.

“Yeah that's right,” he smiles. “The first thing he said to me, he goes, ‘congratulations on your captaincy but I'm still a colonel, so I pull rank’.

“They were literally his first words so I was put back in my box then. Yeah, dad has obviously led men in much more dangerous fields than I... well, actually, I don't know!”

A tour of duty that includes such troubled global hotspots such as Kosovo, Cyprus and Israel probably does not compare to the admittedly physical perils of facing down several tonnage of Springbok beef.

Heaslip was born in to a life far removed from a scrap for a warped globe of pig's bladder. Born in Tiberias, Israel, his father, now retired Brig Gen Richard Heaslip, was there on duty with the United Nations and was possessed of a necessarily nomadic and, at times, dangerous lifestyle.

A fine rugby player in his day — with Shannon — he managed to inculcate in all his sons (Graham and Richard also played at a high level in Ireland) not only a passion for rugby but also a cerebral insight into leadership. And, while many staid rugby types might frown at Heaslip's often left-field lifestyle — the studded tongue, the bulldog, the pre-match cat-naps, the raucous dance music — his disparate interests are far from a distraction when it comes to earning his bread and butter.

“Being around my father so long,” he said. “Seeing him work in places like Kosovo, Cyprus, Israel, Belgium, living over there and seeing what he was working in, I obviously picked up a couple of things.

“It's probably why I'm able to compartmentalise things a bit, deal with rugby as a job as such and then step away from it afterwards.

“That's how I saw dad do it. He would be the ultimate professional in what he was doing, then step away from it and be the family man that he is.”

If anything, Heaslip's induction to his new role could energise a squad brimming with youthful enthusiasm and, despite the absence of so many leaders, the fresh leadership voice could be a boon.

Kidney alluded to a second tranche of leadership figures that had been pinpointed during the summer — with Heaslip, Jonny Sexton and Rob Kearney among their number — as Irish rugby continues, ever so imperceptibly, to undergo its most dramatic changing of the guard in more than a decade.

“We'd have talked to fellas individually before that but we then recognised it during the summer and we've subsequently being working more on it,” said Kidney, for whom this enforced radical shift in priorities could conceivably even extend his Irish coaching shelf life.

“It's not anything major. You just find out where fellas are in their career. It sits more comfortable on some guys' shoulders. As you go on in your career, you look for fresh challenges, new areas that you can contribute. You do need leaders right across the park because whoever's on the ball is a decision-maker at that particular point in time.

“I think Alex Ferguson said he needed seven players playing well all of the time to win the Premiership. So you always need 11 guys playing well at any one time in a rugby match.

“It's unfair to lean on the captain all of the time. He needs guys around him. Jamie knows who’s around him and is working with them.”

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