Heaslip happy with underdog status for Ireland
Updated: Friday, 25 Jan 2013 10:10
Jamie Heaslip has told his Ireland team mates that succeeding in the Heineken Cup does not compare to winning the Grand Slam.
Irish provinces have dominated club rugby over the past seven years, winning five European crowns, but the international arena has been a far less productive hunting ground.
The 2009 Grand Slam is the only meaningful silverware Ireland has secured during the same period, posing the question as to why the same players who deliver for Leinster, Munster and Ulster underperform in an Ireland jersey.
Heaslip, who has replaced Brian O'Driscoll as captain for the 2013 RBS 6 Nations, has been involved in all three of Leinster's Heineken Cup victory parades, but still cherishes his memories of four years ago above all else.
"I said to the guys that whatever the feeling of winning titles with your club, it's nothing like winning the Six Nations for your country," he said.
"It's the best feeling ever and you can't come close to it. As a feeling, winning a Heineken Cup is in the same galaxy, but not on the same planet.
"Winning the Grand Slam and being champions of Europe is out of the world.
"Jonny Sexton says talk to the senior guys who have won it and they'll tell you about it.
"Those senior guys are still hungry for it and we've got to be like that. The whole collective is really hungry and ambitious to win."
Ireland experienced a host of injuries during the autumn, losing British and Lions skippers O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell and Rory Best, Sean O'Brien, Rob Kearney and Stephen Ferris to the treatment room.
Their absence enabled the likes of Craig Gilroy, Chris Henry and Donnacha Ryan to come to the fore, yet Heaslip rejects that Ireland are a team in transition.
"I'd say we're always in transition because guys are getting banged up, that's the nature of the game. You're always having to mix and match," he said.
"I'm sure every coach would like to pick from the full deck but it's not going to happen in rugby.
"Other people's misfortune was other people's opportunity and the guys took it with both hands. Look at Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo.
"Now we have Luke, Brian and Rob coming back. They're fit and we're getting closer to the fit squad the coaches are looking for.
"You've got own the jersey and put pressure on these guys because no-one is going to give up an Ireland jersey easily."
"There's something about being Irish and the underdog that sits very well with me" - Jamie Heaslip
Ireland are viewed as third favourites alongside Wales to win the tournament with France and England expected to dominate and Heaslip welcomes the view they are unlikely to challenge for the title.
"I like those odds. In the world rankings we're ahead of Wales. The other teams have had a better record recently," he said.
"France and England had amazing years. Wales were close to a couple of great results. I always like being the underdog.
"There's something about being Irish and the underdog that sits very well with me.
"The Six Nations has become an even playing field. No one team dominates it.
"The standard is pretty level - it's so high that the team that makes the least mistakes wins.
"International sides are so good at punishing you. There's no margin for error."