Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

British Lions coach Warren Gatland's call on Jamie Heaslip just as important

Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip
British and Irish Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland

Will Jamie Heaslip still be playing international rugby in four years' time? If he is will he still be at a level that will secure him a place on a third Lions' Tour?

If the answer to either of those questions is a "no" then Warren Gatland also brought his Lions' career to a premature end when he took a machete to the Lions team that lost to Australia in last Saturday's second Test.

Heaslip turns 30 years of age in less than 100 days. When the Lions tour New Zealand he will be 34 years of age turning 35.

It is entirely possible Heaslip's Lions' career has also been sacrificed by a coach whose reputation will rise or fall on Saturday's result.

If the Lions lose on Saturday the fall-out will be nuclear. Gatland's every decision will be questioned, his loyalty to his Welsh players and coaches and his rudimentary tactics will be dissected and examined.

It will not be pretty.

If the Lions win his decision to throw Brian O'Driscoll overboard will still be high on the agenda but he will be lauded for winning a first Lions' Series in 16 years.

In that scenario it is unlikely his other selection decisions will come under too much scrutiny but it should not be forgotten that Heaslip has started the last five Lions' Tests, that he is the third most prolific line-out operator on this tour with 15 takes, that he has made 42 tackles in his six appearances and scored a try.

In a battle of stats those of Toby Faletau, who replaces him in the team, also make for impressive reading.

He is credited with making 43 tackles – one more than Heaslip – beating 21 defenders with ball in hand and having 73 carries to Heaslip's 63.

At the start of the tour Faletau was also the favourite to wear the number eight shirt after what had been a difficult Six Nations campaign for Heaslip.

Heaslip, though, found form through his European adventures with Leinster and was in spectacularly good form on Tour.

He also assumed a lot of responsibility at the breakdown in Paul O'Connell's absence.

In the first quarter on Saturday he turned over three quick ruck balls as the Lions initially enjoyed some dominance in this area.

There hasn't been the same furore over Heaslip's demotion because he has been replaced by a player who is equally as good.

Yet it is difficult to see the logic in replacing Heaslip with a player who was deemed not good enough for a place even on the bench in the opening two Tests.

Where did Heaslip go so wrong last Saturday?

He wasn't at his marauding best certainly but to be dropped out of the 23...if anything the Lions need to generate quicker ruck ball than they have been doing ... but instead they are set up to attempt to run over Australia.

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