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Scotland v Ireland: Jamie Heaslip keeping a firm grip on things

Centurion in waiting urges Ireland not to look too far ahead and backs young guns to continue flourishing

By Jonathan Bradley

Given that his dog is named after Jay-Z and he was once criticised for bizarrely wearing a pair of Dr Dre headphones to captain's coin toss, it should be no surprise that Jamie Heaslip provides a hip-hop reference to ensure Ireland are not getting too far ahead of themselves before their Six Nations opener with Scotland at Murrayfield this afternoon (2.25pm kick-off).

Channelling Public Enemy, he warned: "Don't believe the hype."

With Ireland and England coming into this year's Championship as the two favourites to be celebrating come March 18, the gaze of the northern hemisphere rugby fan is automatically drawn to the Dublin showdown between the pair on the final day.

Imagine the scene if both were to come into the clash unbeaten.

England would be going for a win that would mean a Grand Slam, a world record run of Test victories for a tier one nation and a valuable boost in their final chance for ranking points ahead of the World Cup draw - and all with Ireland trying to clinch a third ever Grand Slam, as well as their first in Dublin.

Throw in a last international chance to impress Warren Gatland before the squad for this summer's Lions tour to New Zealand is selected and you'd have one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes this tournament has ever produced.

As Ireland's ever durable No.8 is at pains to point out, however, there is plenty of water to pass under the bridge before then.

"You can't win a Grand Slam on day one but you can definitely lose it," he said ahead of a return to Murrayfield, the ground where Ireland last won away in the Championship having come up short in Twickenham and the Stade de France last year.

"A (Grand Slam) is just a phrase. This is a big game for a lot of different reasons. They're going really well, playing a lot of good footie and we've got to step up to the mark.

"If we're not at it, they'll beat us. You can certainly make life a lot tougher in this competition if you lose the first game you play.

"It's going to be a massive challenge. They have gone really well off their summer tour and into their November series.

"They're playing some good footie, their clubs are going really well.

"It's going to be a hell of a game and a hell of a challenge, especially over there in Edinburgh, and we're looking forward to it."

Having made his debut against the Pacific Islands in the autumn of 2006 - on a day when Rory Best was the only member of the current squad to also feature with just a further two, the evergreen Peter Stringer and Donncha O'Callaghan, still playing top-level professional rugby - Heaslip is in a good position to talk about the changing face of the squad.

Having come through when the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and John Hayes were stalwarts - three men, incidentally, who Heaslip should join in the 100-cap club during the Championship - today they will rely on the likes of Iain Henderson, Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose.

After last season represented something of a transition Championship for the side, Heaslip believes this squad will only get better with Test exposure.

"At this level, the group has got to get a lot of experience," said the man who has played more minutes under Joe Schmidt than anyone else.

"It has been a transition from a group with a lot of experience with big players to players who didn't have as much at the top international or Lions level.

"We have to kind of grow that experience in the group and be more shrewd and more clinical at times in terms of the opportunities that we get and then being tuned in the whole time and not giving teams any opportunity. It is a big step up for guys from club level to this because when you play that window to make a decision is so small.

"The really good players don't need it, they are gone, and if you are thinking about it at international level in either attack or defence that is 10 or 20 metres.

"That's where this kind of experience over the last couple of years has been ingrained into a lot of lads, even as recently as the tour and the November series with all the different permutations we had to use.

"That experience in the group going forward is vital for us to grow."

Teams

SCOTLAND - Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Jonny Gray; Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, Josh Strauss. Replacements: Ross Ford, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Tim Swinson, John Barclay, Ali Price, Duncan Weir, Mark Bennett.

IRELAND - Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, Kieran Marmion, Ian Keatley, Tommy Bowe.

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