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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Heaslip Anticipates Family Rivalry Over World Cup Pool

Heaslip Anticipates Family Rivalry Over World Cup Pool

The Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool Draw has ensured that the Ireland-Japan rivalry in his brother’s household is set to intensity according to Ireland vice-captain Jamie Heaslip.

Watching the draw as it unfolded from a Land Rover event in London this morning, Jamie Heaslip could afford a wry smile as Ireland, one of the four top seeds, were placed in Pool A alongside tournament hosts Japan.

His older brother Richard, who played rugby for Trinity and Oxford and also in the Japanese league for a number of years, has laid down strong roots in the Land of the Rising Sun, married and with newborn twins.

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Undoubtedly keen to sign up the new family members as Ireland fans for Japan 2019, Jamie admitted: “On a personal level, I’m kinda excited because my brother is married to a girl from Osaka, so it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in that household! They’ve just had twins so maybe they’ll pick one that will go with Ireland and one that will go with Japan! That’s going to make for an exciting time over the next couple of years.”

It was announced in February that the Leinster number 8 had signed a new IRFU contract which will see him play in Ireland until the end of the 2019 World Cup. He spoke during the recent Six Nations of his ambition to play at another World Cup in two years’ time.

“I felt very lucky to be able to go to two (World Cups) and, if I get a chance to go to a third, that would be amazing. What drives me is adding value to the club or the country, to the jersey. I still think I can add a lot of value to it,” he said.

Heaslip will be 35 years of age by the time RWC 2019 comes around, but given his excellent injury profile – his current spell out with a lower back injury is a rarity – and impressive durability through the toughest of Test matches, it would be no surprise to see the 2016 World Rugby Player of the Year nominee answering ‘Ireland’s Call’ in Japan.

His long-time Leinster and Ireland team-mate Mike Ross, who is in his final weeks as a professional player, was 35 when he played in the last World Cup. Indeed, there were a number of back rowers in their mid-30s at England 2015, including New Zealand’s trophy-lifting captain Richie McCaw (34), Italy’s Mauro Bergamasco (36), Ovidiu Tonita from Romania (35) and Tonga’s Hale T-Pole (36), while the elder statesman of the tournament was legendary Springbok lock Victor Matfield (38).

Obviously RWC 2015 ended in deep disappointment for Heaslip and the Irish squad with the quarter-final exit to Argentina, but the Naas man still has some fond memories of playing in front of huge crowds in London and Cardiff, including a Rugby World Cup record attendance of 89,267 at Wembley Stadium.

“From an Irish point of view, it was like a home World Cup for us. There were so many Irish people around and we were mainly based in London. Every game we went to was a sell-out…we played in Wembley, we played in the Olympic Stadium, and I think we set a world record (for the attendance against Romania) along the way. It was great, we had huge support.

“I think the 2015 World Cup showcased rugby to a real global audience and brought a lot of people into the game, through some upsets and just through exciting rugby. Granted it wasn’t that successful for the host nation on the pitch, but it opened rugby up to new markets and I think that’s really exciting for the game going forward.”

Ireland will get to know one of their 2019 pool opponents much better next month when they embark on a two-Test tour of Japan, meeting Jamie Joseph’s Brave Blossoms in Shizuoka (June 17) and Tokyo (June 24). Depending on his fitness, Heaslip could skipper the men in green for the upcoming summer tour.

Reflecting on how the pool draw panned out and speaking about Japan’s ongoing development as a team, he said: “Obviously we knew coming into it there’s some really, really good teams there. We’re quite happy with who we have, we’ve some huge challenges ahead of us. Scotland, we’ve had our battles with them over the years.

“Japan are a really interesting prospect, you look at what they did at the last World Cup and what they’ve done since then in terms of really elevating their game and taking scalps along the way and posing a massive threat. And it’ll be interesting to see who qualifies for the other two spots (Europe 1 qualifiers and Play-Off 1 winners).

“It’s always exciting to be going up against the host nation because obviously the whole country is behind them – and even more so because of the scalp (South Africa) they took at the last World Cup.”