Leinster’s recent upswing in form may have coincided with the rare absence of an injured Jamie Heaslip from the line-up, but Matt O’Connor clearly isn’t the superstitious type, given his declaration that his captain will return against Castres tomorrow.
The Naas No. 8 was forced off the field 28 minutes into the province’s Guinness Pro12 fixture at home to Ulster at the start of January and the team has since pushed on to deliver a much-improved second half against their northern neighbours and a four-try salvo away to Cardiff.
There was a line of thought that Heaslip would perhaps be given another week to recuperate his shoulder, given Castres are expected to arrive with a second-string side and a coaching staff whose minds may well remain in France, where they languish second-from-bottom in the Top 14.
That would have allowed Heaslip return thoroughly refreshed for the following Champions Cup trip to Coventry a week later — the round six decider against Wasps.
The Leinster coach wasn’t having any of that though.
“It’s about a must-win game at home at the RDS,” said the Australian head coach. “You’ve got your best blokes available, you stick them on the field. Jamie’s trained all week. He’s done everything asked of him. He’ll play.”
Heaslip’s recent absence only served to highlight just how durable he has been. December 2010 was the last time he had been forced from the field of play or missed a game through injury, since which he had featured in 107 top-class games of rugby unbroken, if not unbruised.
That incorporated a run of 73 appearances for Leinster, 38 for Ireland and half-a-dozen for the Lions and, though he may have been rested at stages by all three, it still makes for a remarkable run of fitness — and form — for a modern professional rugby player.
“There’s always going to be special athletes and freaks like Jamie,” said O’Connor. “There’s just not enough of them. In my time here, that AC injury is the first time he’s missed a training session, and you very rarely get that in the game.”
Heaslip has likened himself to Benjamin Button — the film character who gets younger rather than older — and he dipped into Hollywood lore again yesterday by speaking about the Wolverine blood that has kept him so free of injury.
The latter is, of course, a comic book creation and Heaslip delved deep into that world as a child, living on US-run army bases in Nicosia and Cyprus as his father, retired Brigadier General Richard Heaslip, served with and alongside UN and NATO peacekeeping forces.
Heaslip credits that army upbringing for instilling the virtues of routine into his psyche and Leinster are sticking to much the same ‘business as usual’ line this week as media and supporters talk up the inevitability of a five-point haul in Ballsbridge.
It would, unquestionably, be a monumental blow if Leinster were not sitting on an 18-point haul come tomorrow evening before Harlequins (13 points) and Wasps (12) kick off at The Stoop where a home win would leave a first-place finish firmly in the province’s hands.
“If Wasps were to win that probably gives us a slightly better advantage,” O’Connor admitted, “but you still have to win two games so it isn’t something that we have control over. So, it is largely irrelevant for us at the moment.”
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