Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

RBS 6 Nations: It's Ireland's turn to crush England, says Jamie Heaslip

In the zone: Jamie Heaslip is ready to step it up to claim the Triple Crown by beating England at Twickenham

Mention Twickenham to Jamie Heaslip and his face lights up. It's a strange reaction given that Ireland's Number eight has had some pretty low as well as spectacularly high moments at English rugby's home in south-west London.

"My first ever game we got absolutely owned there. It was 2008 and it was the last game of the Six Nations as well. The excitement that was in me was quickly beaten out of me that day," he recalls.

England won 33-10. Ouch.

Two years later, Ireland were 20-16 victors at Twickenham where Tommy Bowe scored a brace of tries separated by a Keith Earls touchdown.

But Ireland's recent record against England is not good.

"We haven't beaten them the last three times, including the World Cup warm-up," Heaslip muses.

"But in terms of grounds around the world, I really like it. It's a big stadium but people are surprisingly close to you.

"I really like when you pull in on the bus. You see all the people out; it's like Aintree or something. They're all out having their tea and their Pimms out of the back of their Range Rovers – quite proper, like a posh tailgate party.

"And they have that walk into the changing rooms, which I just love. Everyone's there. At the Aviva you don't see anyone until you come out of the tunnel, but there you get that sense of anticipation and excitement floating in the air and it gets you giddy.

"The England game, whether it's at Twickenham or at the Aviva, goes up a level. It's really exciting," he continues.

"I have a lot of family over there; my sister lives in Richmond with her husband. They have a pre-match lunch and they walk from their house to the game, stopping for a couple of wet ones along the way. It's just a really good fixture to play in and go to," he explains.

The driving maul is a weapon Ireland deployed successfully against both Scotland and Wales. Heaslip jokes when questioned on that particular subject.

"Yeah, Plum (forwards coach John Plumtree) has got to be given a bit of credit I suppose, but you never know - you might have a row on your hands there, the forwards might never talk to you again!" he quips.

"With the background he has, the maul has to be respected. I think, though, if you look at all the Irish clubs this year they've been using it as a threat themselves. I know in Leinster we've used it a couple of times with good returns.

"And in fairness to them England, are doing the same thing. Their maul has to be respected as well.

"But it's like anything – if you have a very good maul it's got to be respected, they've got to put numbers into it to defend it and that potentially might free up space somewhere else.

"You've got to have multiple threats. We've worked hard on the maul but also other things, and we have got one or two scores off the back of it.

"But I'm pretty sure that's not always going to happen – we're still going to have to put the same work in and hopefully threaten the way we have done."

Asked about the relative inexperience of the two men who, for the third Six Nations match in a row will be his flankers, he lauds Munster's Peter O'Mahony and Ulster's Chris Henry.

"I think they've got enough (experience) now to be honest; they're playing Heineken Cup regularly," Heaslip points out . "I'm not too sure many caps they have. I'm pretty sure they're both in double figures"

Henry has 11, O'Mahony has 21.

"He (O'Mahony) is playing some really good footy, same as Chris. The two of them get through a lot of work and both have their unique characteristics on the field," Heaslip enthuses.

Henry has been deputising for Leinster open-side Sean O'Brien who was ruled out of the series following surgery to repair the shoulder he dislocated in the post-Christmas derby win over Ulster at the RDS.

In Heaslip's opinion, Henry is making a very good fist of things.

"Seanie is a very different player than let's say Chris at seven, but that's like saying I'm a very different player than (England's) Billy Vunipola; different players, different characteristics," he says.

So with this crucial game against England now just two days away, is he happy with the Irish back row?

"Yeah, but never happy. Well, I am – I'm an eternal optimist. But we're never happy, we're never satisfied," is his somewhat cryptic reply.

"We've a lot of work-ons from the last game, we've a big challenge ahead of us this game as that back-row unit. I don't know if we're happy. I don't think Joe (Schmidt) will ever let us be happy."

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