Consistency in a world gone mad. That is what Jamie Heaslip craves.
Which is why, as he heads into another campaign orchestrated by head coach and former provincial boss Joe Schmidt, the Leinster forward is perfectly happy to be going through the same old routines as Ireland prepare to begin their Guinness Series against South Africa on Saturday.
Not only that, Heaslip is comforted by the understanding that the approach will not change when the mighty Springboks depart and Test rugby minnows Georgia replace them as Ireland’s next opponents.
“It’s been a good 10 days, I’m very happy with how we trained,” Heaslip said of the first phase of national training camp in Maynooth. “We’re in good shape.
“Joe doesn’t change the way how he trains or how he approaches games no matter who we are playing. We looked at South Africa from as early as September, even August. I think August, actually, was when Joe first started introducing things. But it is still the same, we focus on our attack Monday, defence Tuesday and Thursday, Friday it’s kind of into team run-type stuff. We did a lot of stuff last week, spent the first half of the week on Australia and the tail half on South Africa. We’re well versed and the approach doesn’t change and it won’t change throughout the November series.”
In a world of uncertainty as Ireland attempt to take on the second best team in the world with an injury-hit squad, Heaslip himself offers plenty of consistency.
He has been the first choice No 8 since Ireland began to rebuild after the World Cup debacle of 2007 and since the 2008 Six Nations has missed just eight Ireland Tests.
Four of those were due to his presence in British & Irish Lions squads, another was due to squad rotation in the build-up to the 2011 World Cup, one more due to suspension following his red card against the All Blacks in the summer of 2010. More remarkable still is that only two games have been missed due to injury, once during the 2011 Six Nations, the other a broken finger allowing him to dodge a bullet by missing the infamous 60-0 drubbing by New Zealand in the final Test of the 2012 series whitewash.
“Impact injuries you can’t predict or prevent so there’s a little element of luck to them I suppose,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough, some guys have been unfortunate. It’s a big boys’ game and players get hurt.”
The boys won’t come bigger than the Springboks, who last visited Dublin in November 2012 and out-muscled an Irish team captained by Heaslip for the first time in a 25-23 victory that saw the new skipper yellow carded.
The South African muscle remains but head coach Heyneke Meyer has brought a more free-flowing approach that was effective enough to beat the All Blacks last month.
“I think they’re a much better team than two years ago,” Heaslip said. “They’ve got a lot more strings to their bow. Their backline is operating much better. I think it represents a huge challenge for us.
“We just know a lot of their game is still about getting momentum. We know we have to negate that, especially at their launch, especially off their set-piece.
“It’s a very good maul, a very good scrum, a good lineout. These are the things we are going to have to negate. We have to shut down their options.
“They use their forwards to get them right into the game and get them fast ball for the speed and potency of their backline.”
Some things do change, it seems, but not about the way Heaslip and Ireland prepare to take on the new-look Springboks.
“It comes back to what you asked about routine, there is something reassuring about routine, boxes are ticked during the week and you know you’re in a good place. Then it’s game day and you just let the emotions flow.”
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