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Heaslip Mindful Of Wallabies’ Back Row Threats

Heaslip Mindful Of Wallabies’ Back Row Threats

Almost eight years to the day of his Ireland debut at the old Lansdowne Road, Jamie Heaslip will anchor the Irish scrum as they look to finish the GUINNESS Series on a high with a win over Australia.

Jamie Heaslip has become a firm fixture in the Ireland team over the years. So much so that sitting out last week’s game against Georgia was admittedly a strange experience for the Naas man, given his dominance of the number 8 jersey.

His record against Australia reads played six, won two, draw one and lost four, with the two successes coming for Ireland at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and for the Lions in last year’s first Test of the series Down Under.

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Heaslip would dearly love to get one over on the Wallabies, especially as his last two outings against them have ended in defeats. They are a team that he rates highly and the influence of their Michael Hooper-led back row will have to be quelled.

“We’ve been focusing on their players, what we think the way they want to play and focusing on what will work on their type of defence. That’s pretty much it. They’ve got (quality) coming out of their ears in terms of the players that they can pick from,” said the Ireland number 8, as he discussing his preparations for the game.

“They’ve a really strong squad, I’ve been looking a lot at the back row. They have some pretty serious back row threats, so that’s been where I’ve been keeping my main focus and then worrying about myself and trying to get myself right.”

Many believe another victory on Saturday would give Joe Schmidt’s men a big dollop of momentum to take into the Six Nations and on to the World Cup next year, but with so many matches in between – at all levels – Heaslip prefers to focus on the here and now.

Asked about using the maul as a scoring platform – as Ireland did against the Springboks – and what it takes to defend an opposition drive, he said: “You look back to when we played South Africa, we scored a try off a maul. It’s a good set piece. It’s something you can plan out to a certain degree. Like all good set pieces, when you execute them, sometimes they are very hard to stop. 

“Being on the other side, defending well-executed moves off mauls, it’s tough work getting in there and breaking it up. South Africa got in for one against us two weeks ago.

“All teams pride themselves on that and as a pack you want that chance. You want them to kick to corner and go, ‘let’s go’. It’s kinda ‘man up’ time is the best way to describe it.”

Michael Cheika was Leinster’s head coach when Heaslip signed his first contract. He went on to win both the Magners League (2008) and Heineken Cup (2009) with the province and his former back row protégé reckons Cheika could create the same magic at international level with the Wallabies. 

“‘Cheiks’ is a unique character. It was always great that when I turned pro my head coach was a back row player so I got some extra attention off him. It was always good,” admitted Heaslip.

“He would wear his heart on his sleeve and you would definitely know what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling. In terms of organisation, thinking about the game, he’s a very smart man. He always has that ability to come up with a couple of really good line-breaking moves. I’ve been on the receiving end of them!

“I’m sure he is going to give a unique insight into us to a lot of different players they wouldn’t have had before.

“He will give them that insight but at the same time he will quite focused on getting Australia right, really getting them in a good place and that is a dangerous combination of a really good head coach and some cracking players.”

While Australia have a new man in charge since last November’s 32-15 victory in Dublin, Cheika’s selected team for Saturday also differs considerably from that game – the new inclusions are debutant winger Henry Speight, half-backs Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps, hooker Saia Fainga’a, lock Sam Carter Carter and back rowers Luke Jones and Ben McCalman.

Heaslip noted: “Because Cheika is only in, I doubt he’s had the ability to change too much. We have to look at that but more so on their more recent games.

“In the set piece, we have looked at them there. Good side, we know that. They’re always there or thereabouts in terms of the (Rugby) Championship or the World Cup…in those big competitions. We owe them a lot of respect.”