Captain Heaslip not feeling the heat
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip has dismissed suggestions that the responsibility of the role is getting to him.
"I'm quite happy with my form," he said. "I was quite happy against Wales. I set myself a pretty high standard and I don't think I reached it against England.
"And I was quite happy with how I played against Scotland – thought I got on the ball quite a lot, got through a lot of work, good few tackles and when I had opportunities thought I made an impact on the game.
"I'm quite happy with the way I'm playing, yeah, very happy."
And the Leinster No 8 also stressed that the presence of ex-skipper Brian O'Driscoll – the provincial team-mate he succeeded – is a plus.
O'Driscoll led Ireland on a record 83 occasions up until coach Declan Kidney's controversial decision to relieve him of the job and allow Heaslip to continue in the role he had during November's Guinness Series which the 123 times-capped centre missed through injury.
"I've been captain of Leinster while Brian has been on the pitch and he's been exactly the same there as he is now with me being in the captain's role," Heaslip said.
"He's a player of unbelievable experience, but there are a lot of players on the field who have great experience and they're always feeding in. You can't see everything on the pitch so it's great to have that information coming from other guys as well."
O'Driscoll offered his successor an endorsement, saying: "No one cracks it in the first three or four games as captain. You constantly get better the more you do it and I have absolutely no concerns about him."
With Ireland having lost to England and Scotland in their last two Six Nations outings, they are out of the running for the championship.
But Kidney, whose contract expires at the end of the series, does not appear to view Saturday's home date with France as mere fixture-fulfillment. Clearly the 2015 World Cup has motivated some of his recent selections. Be that as it may, the consensus is that it will be a major surprise if his IRFU employers offer him an extension.
Heaslip was adamant that neither his game, nor that of the team overall, has suffered at a result of any of these off-field distractions. His sights, those of the team and of the Irish management personnel, are fixed firmly on France, he insisted. No-one in the camp is thinking in terms of what might happen when the series ends.
"It's not even worth considering," Heaslip said. "I'm worried about this week and that's it. I'm very week to week, I'm not too concerned about next year, to be honest – a lot can happen between now and then."
Throughout the group, he insisted, attention is on the job in hand.
"Like Declan, we're just focused on this week," he said. "Everything else is outside our control or remit. We're just all about France and getting ourselves right for that game.
"It's a massive challenge for us. Even though they haven't won a game yet we all know what those types of players are capable of," he warned.
His assessment of the Ireland players' mindset with 60% of a now-lost series gone was: "The thing that we're annoyed about is that we're creating opportunities that we're not finishing. Both games (against England and Scotland) were games where there's been one score between winning and losing and that's the frustrating thing.
"Those are games where we don't feel that we've been beaten but that we've lost.
"From a player's point of view, that's the frustrating thing so that's why we just want to get out there and get going again."
Despite the frustration and the uncertainty, morale does not appear to have been an issue.
"Camp has been really good. The team spirit and camaraderie is up there with the best I've ever been around," Heaslip said.
"We're an ambitious bunch, we set our standards quite high so obviously we're not happy that we've lost two games. We go out to win every game, so that's a little bit annoying. But the calibre of players we have is that we bounce back. They're professionals, guys who have played games where they've lost two on the trot and then bounced back to win again.
"It's all just part and parcel of it. When we wear a green jersey we pride ourselves on setting unbelievably high standards so that's what we have to try to do again this weekend – bounce back, create those opportunities."