France and England are the teams to beat in this year’s 6 Nations Championship, according to new Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip.
Speaking at the tournament launch in London, the Leinster No. 8 also said he has received Brian O’Driscoll’s full support since Declan Kidney’s controversial captaincy change.
“I’ve captained the side (Leinster) before and Brian has been on the pitch obviously,” said Heaslip.
“In November when Deccie asked me, he was one of the first guys that I rang.
“Deccie asked me on Wednesday night and when I went in Thursday morning with Leinster, he (Brian) came straight up to me and shook my hand. He said he was 100 per cent behind me, if I need him for anything, any advice, any experience. It’s great to have that.
“He’s in the squad and I can lean on him.”
Ireland play Wales away in Cardiff on February 2 and England at home eight days later. A clearly energised Heaslip is relishing the prospect.
“The 6 Nations, it’s the competition we have all watched that we have all been brought up on. I’m giddy now just thinking about it. The buzz that’s generated by the media, by the fans, be it London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Rome, Paris. You all know yourselves the buzz around the place, it’s one of the best competitions to play in.”
When asked to pick an outright favourite the new captain listed France and England as the “bookies’ favourites” adding:
“I don’t mind being the underdog,” he said.
“France had a good summer tour, had a good November Series, I’d the pleasure of playing against Clermont twice this year and they’re going quite well. There are pretty big players in that team who I am sure are going to represent France during the 6 Nations. Italy keep on getting better and better, they are always a very tough side, a very physical side. Wales, despite the results in the November series, we know all too well they are a very good side and
England had a tremendous November series as well.I think it’s wide open.
“We have a lot of young guys, a couple of guys with no caps, guys with less than 10 caps, then there’s guys with over 100 caps.
“We have a good eclectic mix of players there, we’re just driving the standard of training up.
“A lot of people think they (Wales) are not on form from the November series, but you look at most of their games, they were just a score or two away from having quite a different series.
“It’s a tall challenge.” Asked where he was when he found out he was being made captain Heaslip joked.
“I wasn’t in Tesco’s this time. Deccie rang me and asked me to come into him in Dublin.
“After a bit of chit chat he asked me if I wanted to be captain of Ireland. I had to stop myself grabbing a hold of him and giving him a man-hug.
“When I got home I rang my parents and my Dad gave his usual line: ‘Fair play, you got promoted but I’m Colonel so I’m still pulling rank.’
“It was great, a really proud moment for family friends and loved ones.”