Jamie Heaslip led Ireland to a momentum-building 30-22 RBS 6 Nations victory over Wales, making it two Test wins in-a-row for the fledgling international captain.
Ireland’s Six Nations odyssey began on a very positive note as tries from Simon Zebo, Cian Healy and Brian O’Driscoll steered them past last year’s Grand Slam champions.
O’Driscoll’s successor as team captain, Jamie Heaslip, was heartened by how his side coped with a Cardiff assignment that tested them thoroughly in both attack and defence.
Leading 30-3 early in the second half, Declan Kidney’s men had to absorb a huge amount of pressure as Rory Best and Conor Murray were both sin-binned and Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell picked off Welsh tries.
“Some guys really stood up, it was heroic stuff. We just have confidence in our game-plan, in how we’re going to play, and know that if we execute it we’re a hard team to stop,” explained Heaslip.
“But we were really tested by Wales, especially when they started crawling back into the game. We had to have faith in ourselves and a positive kind of feel.
“I can tell you that 20 minutes with 14 men, they really, really put it to us and asked serious questions of our defence.
“There is no better team than Wales to exploit the extra man and the space. It’s one of the first games in a long time that we were left with literally nothing else in the tank (at the finish).”
The Naas man added: “It was a game of two halves. We’d quite a lot of possession and kept the ball quite well in the first half and then the tables turned.
“They started controlling the pace and retaining possession for a long time. It felt like 50 phases at a time, just wave after wave after wave of Welsh attacks.”
Heaslip was involved in the build-up to Healy’s try midway through the first half. Best blocked a Dan Biggar kick and linked with the number 8 whose pass drifted behind the onrushing Zebo whose instinctive flick is sure to rack up thousands of views on YouTube.
“It was ‘Match of the Day’ type stuff. I just knew I had to try and get the ball to him (Zebo) quick. In fairness, Rory (Best) floated a lovely pass over to me, he’d great vision to throw that pass,” said Heaslip.
“I could have made it easier and put it in front of Simon. With that kind of space and his wheels he probably would have gotten closer to the corner straight away, but he showed some great skills to flick it up with the foot and keep control.
“Myself and Brian, after we scored a few phases later, were literally saying, ‘Oh my God, that was ‘Match of the Day’ stuff. He did well.”
Heaslip is Ireland’s 101st captain in international rugby, following in the footsteps of his Leinster colleagues O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen. He suffered a cut to his leg during the Welsh game but is expected to train with the squad on Tuesday morning.
Heaslip’s close friend and room-mate Cian Healy, who scored his second international try, was disappointed that Ireland allowed Wales get back into the game in the second period.
“We let off a bit too much, it’s something we’ve been trying to work on but we’re going to have to go back and sort it out because there was too much of a let-off in the second half,” said the loosehead prop.
“(Next week against England) is a completely different job so we’ll take tomorrow off and chill out completely, switch off from rugby and deal with it on Monday.”