FOR MOST IRISH rugby players, the season is off and running.
This weekend though, will see many of the game’s most recognisable names and faces come back into contention for places. The elite.
Jamie Heaslip is among that group and, having not played a minute of rugby since Ireland’s 23-20 defeat to New Zealand in Christchurch, he is chomping at the bit to get his head stuck in where no head should ordinarily go.
“It’s three months since I played a game. I had a really good holiday. Switched off completely and then had a really good eight weeks of hard training.” Heaslip summarised to TheScore.ie yesterday.
“I’ve got myself in good shape and I’m really looking forward to getting the ball rolling.
“Now, it’s going to be absolutely horrible on Saturday, because the first two games are never pleasant. No matter how much fitness you do, it’s hell on earth. But I’m looking forward to it.
With almost all of the international front-liners now free to play, a difficult fortnight has been brought to to an end for each of Ireland’s provinces. It also draws a line under a difficult pre-season schedule where team-mates are divided by their status.
Leinster’s new training base in UCD is invaluable in bringing the group together.For the past two weeks, the province has been one big happy family again: Heaslip alongside Ben Marshall, Brian O’Driscoll astride with Brendan Macken.
“We have the academy guys and ourselves all in the one area of the new facility and there’s a great energy about the place. Everybody’s worked really hard this pre-season,” he says.
For the elite, the trip to Treviso marks the first test of another marathon season which this year will culminate in a Lions tour of Australia.
“Everyone sets themselves goals,” says the back-row, adamant that he won’t be getting ahead of himself, “to be honest, they’re the results of all the little goals you set yourself day-to-day, week-to-week. Right now, all I’m worried about is training well tomorrow and playing well on Saturday.”
“All the rest of the stuff… there’s a lot of rugby to be played before that. And, as you well know, it’s not tiddlywinks we’re playing. People can get hurt along the way. So I think focusing on the now rather than later is much more constructive.”
The ‘now’ will be a dogfight in Treviso, the pride of Italy, where defeating one of the continent’s marquee clubs is no longer considered a scalp. Now, three years on from joining the Magners League, this Italian side expect to win at home.
Blood has been stirred for Heaslip. He felt the latent thrill of playing just by patrolling the sideline on waterboy duty for last weekend’s win over the Dragons.
“You’re going up and down the sideline, hearing the crowd and the hair starts standing up on your neck. You start to get giddy again about going out on the pitch.
“You’re relishing that contact, getting your head in there and getting tackled. You might steal a ball at a ruck… all that stuff, really looking forward to it.”
Inter-provincial clashes are on the horizon and the Heineken Cup is just a month from resumption.
The season starts here.
- Jamie Heaslip launched the new PUMA Easy Rider apparel available from Life Style Sports