Will he stay or will he go? Jamie Heaslip almost shrugged at the question.
The recently retired Leinster, Ireland, and Lions forward earned the bulk of his silverware as a player under Joe Schmidt. He knows perfectly well how good a coach he is, but understands that coaching terms are as ephemeral as playing careers.
Heaslip accepts that the day will come when Irish rugby has to wean itself from its dependence on Schmidt so there was an air of something akin to detachment over the intentions of the Ireland head coach, who is due to decide on his future post-World Cup by the end of the year.
“It’s a natural part of the game,” he explained at a Vodafone promotion yesterday.
“There has been layers put on top of it. That is what will happen in Ireland. He has brought them to a certain level, a certain standard, a certain expectation, that whoever will take it on next will want a layer on top, and so on. He is a cracking coach. I have only good things to say about Joe.”
There was a time when Heaslip couldn’t say anything but good things about anyone employed by the IRFU. That was all part of being a team player. But that obligation ended when he called time on his career earlier this year due to a back injury suffered during the 2017 Six Nations.
That said, some habits are hard to kick. Heaslip had already dipped his toe into a number of different business ventures in his playing days and he has added analyst/co-commentator in recent months.
On Saturday, he will call the game with Ryle Nugent on Channel 4, as they did the Argentina game a week before. He seems to be reserving hard calls for his TV duties given the reluctance to nail colours to the mast yesterday.
There was a long-winded version of ‘no comment’ when asked if Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander were untouchable in Ireland’s back row, regardless of the team’s riches in that department, but he was more forthright when putting this weekend’s game into a wider context.
There has been next to no talk of next year’s World Cup from either the Irish or Kiwi camps this week. It has been an elephant in both rooms despite the flood of media duties but there is clearly a chance for both sides to make a point ahead of events in Japan.
A win for Ireland would carry an especially bold emphasis as it would inflate the sense of momentum and belief in a squad that has already claimed a Grand Slam and a series win in Australia while sowing further seeds of doubt in the world champions.
Beaten by Ireland in Chicago — in one of Heaslip’s last games for his country — and by the Lions and South Africa on home soil and Australia across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s vulnerability was highlighted again last week when scraping over the line against England.
“I’m actually glad they won because I don’t remember the last time New Zealand lost back to back games,” said Heaslip.
“So it’s kind of nice that we don’t have that stat to worry about. But I just think the squad that we have is even stronger than the squad we had two years ago.
“I just think, as a stepping stone for putting ourselves in the right mind frame for winning the World Cup, this is a big step to take to be able to do that.”
Vodafone will be bringing fans closer to the team via social content, ticket competitions and instant match highlights for all of Ireland’s international matches on the My Vodafone app. See rugby.vodafone.ie for the latest #TeamOfUs news.