In our latest series of Player Profiles on The Rugby Blog, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the candidates to wear the Lions jersey this summer. That way, when you are at the pub to watch the Tests, you can talk knowledgeably about players from every country and not just your own…
Height: 6′ 4′
Date of Birth: December 15th, 1983
Birthplace: Tiberias, Israel
Jamie Heaslip, the Leinster and Ireland number 8, is fast becoming the Superman of Irish rugby and, if Ian McGeechan is listening to the clamoring from the rugby fraternity, could be the Superman of the Lions as well.
Born in Israel thanks to the wanderings of his father, retired Brigadier General Richard Heaslip, who was there on duty with UNIFIL, Heaslip was late to arrive on the International and club scene despite impressive beginnings.
He starred in the 2004 U21 World Cup in Scotland leading to a nomination for the IRB Under-21 World Player of the Year award after Ireland finished as runners-up to New Zealand, but didn’t make his debut for his provincial side, Leinster until March 2005. He has since gained 70 official senior games, scoring over 90 points, including 2 tries in the Heineken Cup. Therefore, after some strong performances in the Magners League, it wasn’t long until the young tyro was called into the Ireland set-up by the then coach Eddie O’Sullivan in 2005 – first with Ireland ‘A’ then into the first team in 2006.
Heaslip’s astronomical rise to the top was attained in the Autumn tests in 2006 where he made his debut against the Pacific Islanders whilst also having the honour of being the 1000th Irish cap in the last international to be played at the old Lansdowne Road (Luke Fitzgerald became the 999th in the same match).
However, the consistent form of Dennis Leamy at number 8, Ireland’s steady progression prior to the World Cup, and, more specifically, Ireland’s back row meant that Heaslip was more of a squad player in the run-up to the World Cup, and then missed out on selection for the tournament altogether.
It wasn’t until the 2008 Six Nations, and some barn storming performances in the Autumn Internationals in 2008 – including a dynamic performance against the Barbarians at Kingsholm – that Heaslip began to come to the fore. The injury to Munsterman and number 8 incumbent, Dennis Leamy at the end of the 2007-08 season allowed Heaslip to announce himself on the International stage against New Zealand and the Springboks.
This step-up at international level was mirrored with Leinster. Heaslip was fast becoming a key member of the Leinster 1st XV, and was one of the new age of Irish players coming through the provinces’ youth systems (others include Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy). His Six Nations appearances in the 2008 tournament were based on the Magners League form that both he and Leinster were showing on the way to claiming the title.
And Heaslip has kept up this form into the new season with Leinster, but most notably with Ireland. His super, side-step laden try against the French in the opening fixture of the 2009 Six Nations announced his talent to the rest of the European nations – a talent which Irish fans were all too familiar with. It remains to be seen whether Ian McGeechan will opt for Heaslip as the backbone of his scrum in South Africa this summer, but with the performances he’s showing, the dynamism he’s playing with, and the confidence that he’s gained, Geech could do a lot worse!
By John White