The Naas number eight was originally handed the armband by Declan Kidney for the November Tests and then retained it for the Six Nations, despite the return to fitness of long-term incumbent Brian O’Driscoll.
The son of a retired army general, Heaslip had skippered Leinster 12 times and lost just once and, at 29 and with over 50 caps, the British and Irish Lion had the CV to back up his claims.
All that has changed given Ireland’s careless losses against England and Scotland, however, with forward Heaslip coming under fire for his own displays and his generalship in games where Ireland appeared all too often to be rudderless.
“I’m disappointed with the criticism, to be honest,” said Easterby. “Outside the captaincy I think he’s playing well. It’s very hard to listen to some people on the television criticising his performances because Jamie plays a certain role and is very selfless in terms of the way he plays the game and depending on the make-up of the back row that he plays in.
“He is a good enough player to be able to adjust his role accordingly and I think he’s doing that. I dread to think how many balls he carried (on Sunday) and tackles he made. I haven’t seen any of the stats but his individual performances are right up there so I’d be disappointed with people questioning that.
“In terms of the captaincy, he’s done a good job here, he’s got an incredible record (with Leinster). The international captaincy is a different environment. He’s obviously learning that as he goes along but for people to be questioning his choices from the stands or from the television, I find that incredible.”
As a scrum-half, Easterby was used to being in the thick of it when it came to decisions and game control and he seemed taken aback by suggestions Heaslip was failing to be assertive enough and Ireland were effectively making decisions by committee on the pitch.
Easterby pointed to the presence of men such as O’Driscoll and Ulster’s Rory Best within the Irish ranks and said it would be negligent of a new captain who is still learning the trade not to use such experience.
“Who decides if there’s too much committee? That happens in every single game. Jamie’s the captain and I haven’t heard anything from anyone to say he’s not performing that role or he needs to be more forthright and strong.”