"It was a joy to watch" - Jamie Heaslip on his stand-out Ireland vs. Australia moments
"Let's just take them game by game."
Jamie Heaslip has full transitioned from player to pundit, at this stage, but he is still as game-focused as he ever was.
The former Leinster, Ireland and Lions No.8 hung up his boots in 2018 after an illustrious career, and has moved into the world of business, technology, fatherhood and, when he can, talking rugby. He will be at Aviva Stadium, this weekend, with the Amazon Prime team, as his old team gears up for their final Test of the year, against the Wallabies.
Looking back on the Bank of Ireland Nations Series, to date, Heaslip was delighted to see Andy Farrell's side meet the physical 'blunt force' challenge against South Africa, as well as the challenge of playing with the 'favourites' tag.
"Maybe it's an Irish-ism," he muses, "of, 'Oh, we don't play well when we're favourites'. We have to change that mindset but with the team itself, I don't think it is there, but maybe WE have to change that. We have to get quite comfortable with being favourites, and playing to our standard, and not another team's standard."
As pleased as he was by Ireland toppling the Springboks, he was underwhelmed by the 'paint by numbers' manner of victory against Fiji.
In terms of players outside that core 17 or 18 players that Andy Farrell would pick from, for his starting XV, Heaslip does not feel that any of the fresher faces on the scene - Stuart McCloskey, Robert Baloucoune, Nick Timoney, Jack Crowley, Cian Prendergast, Jimmy O'Brien, etc. - have exactly snatched a jersey [1 to 23] just yet.
Heaslip does name-check Timoney, who scored two tries against Fiji, and Max Deegan as two back rows starting to 'put their hands up more'.
Jamie Heaslip on Wallabies challenge
In terms of other weekend selections, Jamie Heaslip feels Andy Farrell could opt for Bundee Aki being reunited with Garry Ringrose after his eight-week suspension, with Stuart McCloskey even squeezed for the bench due to a lack of versatility.
Just in case Ulster fans are starting to worry that Heaslip is focusing on some of their brighter lights, he notes how Joey Carbery was 'a little pedestrian' against Fiji, and how a good cameo against Australia could do Jack Crowley wonders. If Crowley and Craig Casey, his Munster teammate, do get those bench roles, Heaslip urges, "Now is their opportunity - take it, take your chance."
Looking ahead to this Saturday evening's game, Heaslip smiles as he is asked for his favourite tilt against the Green & Gold. He first refers to Stephen Ferris pick-up rag-doll tackle on Will Genia, then recalls Quade Cooper getting into similar bother.
"The momentum in the last 20 minutes of that [2011 World Cup] game just swung in our favour. I remember we kicked the ball up the field and were all running up the pitch, and Quade Cooper tried to step a few guys.
"He sees Cian Healy - a prop - in front of him and tries to side-step him, and to say Cian opened him up was... he just got him the perfect shot. He stepped in and caught him just under the arm, on the ribs, and hooped him up. Didn't tip him, it was a legitimate tackle - the technique was on point - but you can imagine it. That kind of power, hitting at the right angle at the right time. You're talking about a guy that was 116 kilos at the time, versus some that was 91 kilos. It was a joy to watch."
That World Cup win came over the Aussies at Eden Park in 2011, and marked a shift in power between the two nations.
To Heaslip, that shift began in 2009 in Croke Park when Ireland fought back against a David Pocock-inspired side. "After that day," says Heaslip, "the momentum started to shift."
The Ireland record stands at 5-2 since that day at Croker, and many would be stunned if Australia bring that tally closer, this weekend.
That is what being the favourites is all about.
Jamie Heaslip will be covering this Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and Australia at 8pm on Prime Video, with coverage starting from 7pm.
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