JAMIE HEASLIP believes the trophy-laden Irish provinces will provide the platform for a dynamic Irish challenge at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand come September.
The Irish and Lions number eight will have painful memories of Leinster’s last game of the season as he jets off on a four week holiday, but he is convinced that the annexing of European and Magners League titles by Leinster and Munster will provide Declan Kidney’s squad with the confidence required to compete favourably against the world’s best.
“Some pundits wrote off certain players during the Six Nations, but it (recent evidence) goes to show what they know about rugby. The competitive spirit, the physicality, and the skill produced over and over again by the Irish teams in Europe and in the Magners was uplifting.
“All of the Irish teams were competitive all year in both (European) competitions; you had three teams in the (Magners League) knockouts and two of the Irish teams in the final.
“From an Irish perspective it’s pretty good, it’s all positive. Next year Connacht will be in the Heineken as well, which means that a lot more players are going to be exposed to high intensity rugby; to the type of rugby that’s as close as you can possibly get to international Test level. That’s the really good side to it.”
Heaslip had no excuses for Saturday’s Magners League triumph, conceding his team had been beaten by the better side on the night. “They put in a huge defensive effort and were very clinical when they had the ball in our 22. It’s a bitter pill to lose the last game of the season but you can’t take away from Munster the way they played.
“We didn’t manage to hold on to the ball long enough and they caused us lots of problems at the breakdown and in the tackle zone, fair play to them.
“It wasn’t about being a bridge too far. Ask any player involved in knockout rugby and they’ll say it’s easy to get up for the big games. We were successful last week, this week we weren’t and fair play to Munster. They showed consistency in the league, I can’t remember when they went top, but it was for the majority of the season, and they showed (in this game) how and why they were able to do that all year.”
Leinster skipper Leo Cullen felt his side were out-fought and out-thought. “We struggled to get quick ball, we never got into our rhythm and we lacked an edge at the breakdown,” he said.
“We were back in the game at 7-6, but even when we went 9-6 up, we just couldn’t drive on from there. Slowly but surely they just wore us down.
“We thought we had a chance, everyone has thrown everything at it over the last couple of weeks. It’s disappointing. I always thought they were marginal favourites going into the game and that we needed to pull something pretty special out of the bag. We made some silly decisions in the last 10 minutes. We had penalties and turnovers, but we just started forcing things. It was like we were playing into their hands. We just lacked a bit of calm; I don’t know if that’s a result of fatigue but when you are fatigued you make silly decisions and that was a feature of our play.”
And the ignominy of a last-minute penalty try? “The only other time it has happened (this season) was against the Ospreys away when we were down to six forwards. It was pretty noisy out there, and they got the jump on us. They then had a wave coming from behind, and it’s pretty hard to stop.”
Cullen added: “Seven days can be a long time, and right now it’s hard to remember last week. But I’m sure over the next couple of days it will sink in that we had a pretty good year.
“Winning the Heineken Cup is really special.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved