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Jamie Heaslip : Beating England would reignite season

By David Kelly

Published 24/02/2016

Ready for battle: Jamie Heaslip at Ireland’s training
camp at Carton House, Co Kildare yesterday
Ready for battle: Jamie Heaslip at Ireland’s training camp at Carton House, Co Kildare yesterday

Eddie Jones' enthusiasm for launching verbal ammunition across the airwaves this week matches his team's eagerness to put boot to ball.

Amongst many other things, he has helpfully reiterated that everyone is allowed to hate the English. Which is nice. But it is also a primal emotion that cannot possibly be freighted into any cold-blooded, pragmatic plan to win a game of football. Or can it?

Even if not outwardly emoted, it remains an intangible, irrepressible, irreplaceable element which remains firmly entrenched in this most ancient rivalry.

Ulsterman Stephen Ferris is, sadly, no longer on the pitch to remind us about how the English are "bad losers", nor Donnacha O'Callaghan to point out that the red rose on an English shirt is akin to a red rag before a bull.

Mercifully, the often sterile nature of international rugby cannot but yield to the effusive sentiment that resides within this unique fixture.

"It's England, Twickenham," agrees Jamie Heaslip, who has faced England on nine occasions and won just three; five of those meetings were in London, and he emerged victorious just once, in 2010.

"If you can't get motivated for a game like this, get out of the changing-room. If you are an Irishman and you're playing tiddlywinks against an Englishman, or chess or Scrabble, you want to beat him. You know what I mean?

"It is very easy to be motivated. In terms of the results we've had so far also being a motivating factor, one loss and one draw, I've been in that situation before.

"There is a core, not many, who have been in this situation before. We know which way it can go. We've got to be prepared. We're pretty motivated, pretty driven for this opportunity."

Conor Murray, worryingly, has already this week spoken of a "fear factor" within a squad who entered this championship with their coach predicting, and now fully engaged in, mid-table mediocrity.

England, in stark contrast and echoing Ferris' historic claims of arrogance, are well, arrogant, if their coach's trash talk is to be believed; he demanded they give Italy a "good hiding" and, eventually, they did.

Mindset will be key to the respective aspirations this weekend before each side approach the relentlessly brutal physical battle.

"I don't know if we're ever fearful of an opposition or particular grounds," counters Heaslip.

"They're a good side. They've a very good home record. We haven't won there since, what, 2010, I think someone said to me. I remember Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls getting tries that day.

"We're not fearful, but we do have to have the mindset that if we don't take the opportunities that we're creating, then we'll be putting ourselves under pressure against a very good side. "They are a very good side, with good ball players, good athletes, really good guys who control their game and direct them around the field, and with a good defensive system, so we're going to have our work cut out for us."

Devin Toner agrees, although swerves away from the "hatred" trope.

"It's always going to be the big game, old rivals," he avers. "I'm not going to say there's hatred, but there's a little bit extra there, and it's always going to be there. It's our biggest game so far, it's must-win for us. So there's added spice from that too."

Aside from personnel issues, winless Ireland head to the Grand Slam chasing English with obvious question marks surrounding their back-row balance, their scrum and their pitifully profligate attack.

Heaslip's primary responsibility is ballasting the scrum and he brushes off suggestions that Mike Ross and Cian Healy will necessarily improve upon the debacle in Paris.

"I'm more worried about the collective," he says when asked to assess the return to fitness of his Leinster colleagues.

"So far, we've had pretty good players who've been on the field. If other players come in, they slot in but the game-plan doesn't change."

Outside the camp, the "white noise" continues; Heaslip would hardly have expected his old mucker Brian O'Driscoll to produce some of it. "For Leinster, he's criticised us quite a bit," he says pointedly.

He has also criticised Ireland's unwillingness to off-load.

"I wouldn't agree completely with Brian's comment," adds Heaslip.

"As a pundit, he has to offer up an opinion and this is his."

Belfast Telegraph

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