Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes, who captained the New Zealand Maori side to a famous win over the Lions four years ago, is confident that Ireland number 8 Jamie Heaslip can enhance his reputation further on this summer’s tour to South Africa.
Jamie Heaslip has already had a season to remember with his role in Ireland’s Grand Slam success, but there could be more heady days ahead with Leinster taking on Munster in Saturday week’s historic Heineken Cup semi-final and the prospect of featuring for the Lions in South Africa this summer.
The talented number 8, one of four Leinster players named in the 2009 Lions tour squad, has made a big impression on the province’s forwards coach Jono Gibbes.
“As soon as I came here and watched Jamie (Heaslip) operate, I thought that he had great skills and athleticism and I’m comfortable that he will be able to face whatever comes his way,” he said.
“The Six Nations proved it. He’s young and he’ll be playing with some great players in the Lions team and I feel quite positive about what the tour holds for him, as I do for all of our players who have been selected.
“It’s a great honour for Rob (Kearney), Luke (Fitzgerald) and Drico (Brian O’Driscoll).
“We’re all very proud of them and would obviously like to wish them well. I have no doubt that all four will go on to play massive roles within the squad this summer.”
Interestingly, both Heaslip and Kearney played against Gibbes in the Ireland ‘A’ v New Zealand Maori match at the Churchill Cup tournament in 2006.
Gibbes, who won eight Test caps with the All Blacks, was intrigued by Tuesday’s Lions squad announcement and has taken note of the high regard the Lions are held in on this side of the equator.
“It’s kind of strange being up on the other side of the world and seeing how big the Lions are. In New Zealand four years ago, the Lions tour represented international rugby coming back to the provinces.
“The Lions supporters who came down to New Zealand on the last tour were first class, especially the Irish ones!
“I ran into a few of them and they were great. The Maori win was significantly large and it was a great honour to be a part of that.
“It was a different approach for the players who were involved with the Maoris, because some of the players who play in the (midweek) provincial games might never play Test or Super 14 rugby.
“Then, all of a sudden, 18 months out you’re told that you’ve got to be ready to go and you’ve got to be ready to throw everything at them to see what it’s like to play against Six Nations forwards, all these guys that you see on TV.
“The Lions get everything thrown at them. The midweek games are just as brutal as the Tests.”
Leinster are back at the RDS this weekend as they look to bounce back from last week’s defeat in Edinburgh, which has loosened their grip on the Magners League trophy.
Glasgow Warriors stand in the way of Michael Cheika’s side and Gibbes insisted that the mood in the Leinster camp is one of determination as they look for a 100% return in their final three league games.
“We needed to rest a few of the players after the Harlequins game, with the short turnaround and physically they were very sore after a bruising encounter.
“I think that the week’s rest has done the players (who missed the Edinburgh game) well.
“In the first two training sessions of the week they have been jumping out of their skins and they’re pretty excited about playing in the RDS again this weekend.
“Glasgow are a tough, physical team. They have pace and power all over the park and I have no doubt that they will come over to Dublin with a lot of confidence.
“They certainly gave us a big test over in Firhill earlier in the season and we know that we will have to be on top of our game to get a result.
“The squad are determined to get back to winning ways. It’s vital that we build momentum over the next few weeks and we’re not giving up on the Magners League title.”