Heaslip dreaming big for Six Nations and beyond
January 23, 2013
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip relishing captaincy%]
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip is still coming to terms with being asked to lead his country into this year's Six Nations but is already dreaming of his next career high - another British & Irish Lions tour.
The decision to hand the Leinster No.8 the captaincy ahead of a fit-again Brian O'Driscoll, who missed the autumn internationals through injury, surprised many - including Heaslip himself. So astounded and delighted was Heaslip that he had to "stop himself jumping across the table to kiss" coach Declan Kidney and the smile has yet to leave his face.
"I'm still wet behind the ears so it's great, I'm buzzing. It's really exciting to come here," a beaming Heaslip said at the official launch of this year's Six Nations. "I've been feeling really giddy and haven't stopped smiling since I got here."
Heaslip got the nod having impressed during an autumn campaign that produced a victory over Argentina but also a yellow card for the skipper during a narrow defeat to South Africa. "In November I think I went OK," said Heaslip. "I learnt a lot very quickly. I always try to lead by example on and off the field.
"The way you carry yourself on and off the field and your lifestyle are important. So too is the fact you're representing all your peers and team-mates, management, family, friends and fans. Ireland fans hold the green jersey in high regard and the fact you're representing that is a pretty humbling experience."
Kidney insists his preference for Heaslip over O'Driscoll, who has led the side on a record 84 occasions to date, stemmed from a desire to give the veteran centre "a bit of space" in his battle for full fitness. O'Driscoll accepted the decision and Heaslip did not have to wait long for his long-time team-mate, for province and country, to put his own disappointment aside and offer his skipper his support.
"Brian and I tend to be in early for training at Leinster and we spoke about it then. He came straight up to me, shook my hand and told me he's 100% behind me," said Heaslip. "Back in November, after calling my parents and my girlfriend, he was the next person I called to get some pointers. It's fantastic he's in the squad and that I can call on a player of his experience."
O'Driscoll is just one of a number of experienced players, including the likes of hooker Rory Best and fly-half Jonathan Sexton, who are set to help guide Ireland through a Six Nations campaign that kicks off against Wales in Cardiff on February 2. "We are really lucky that we have some great leaders in the squad," said Heaslip, "guys that aren't afraid to throw their tuppence in when something needs to be said whether that is in training or meetings."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney anticipating tough opener against Wales%]
The Six Nations is set to be a key battle ground for those with aspirations to tour with the British & Irish Lions later this year and having capped a stellar season in 2009 with selection for the 2009 trip to South Africa, Heaslip has his eyes on a return to the famous red jersey.
"It is a goal, an ambition, a dream to go on a Lions tour," said Heaslip. "Personally I try not to think about it too much but I allow myself to dream because I know what it is like. It (2009) was amazing, probably the best tour I have ever been on. Amazing to be in such a melting pot of talent both on and off the field and it would be amazing to go on another one - I would absolutely love it. But the Lions tour is the result of a process, the Six Nations.
"Getting picked for a Lions tour is out of my hands as such but what I can control is what I do in training tomorrow and the next day. I break it down that far. I let myself think about it, a lot of rugby players would and find it hard not to dream, but that is as far as you allow yourself."
His timely ascent to the Ireland captaincy ahead of a championship that will be the key shop window for Lions boss Warren Gatland, brings his leadership credentials into sharp focus and immediately makes him a frontrunner to lead the elite tourists to Australia.
"Who wouldn't?" said Heaslip when asked about his willingness to captain the Lions. "But there are lot of great players, great captains and great leaders around. Guys who are not necessarily captain of their country who would definitely put their hand up as good individuals to captain the Lions.
"That is the stuff of boyhood dreams. I'm pretty happy right now and not a lot could make me happier but that would be a dream come true."
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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