Jamie Heaslip has dismissed fears that Joe Schmidt’s squad will be fatigued and flat after a mammoth season stretching over 12 months when they hit South Africa in June in the quest for an historic first ever win in Springbok territory.
Schmidt assembled a large training squad in early July of last year in preparation for a World Cup campaign that delivered less than it promised thanks to a quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina, and club and country duties have piled up ever since.
This is Ireland’s first three-Test summer tour since 2012, when the tourists vacillated between coming close to a first ever defeat of the All Blacks and a 60-0 drubbing.
Once again, this Ireland team will be south of the equator at the same time as most Irish eyes are on boys in green at the Euros.
“I love a tour,” said Heaslip at the launch of Leinster’s summer camps.
“Most players absolutely love a tour. It’s an opportunity to go somewhere which you wouldn’t normally get. Ireland haven’t toured there in a long time. Lads love that opportunity. They’ve tried to manage our playing load as best they can.
“Hopefully by the time I next tog out it will have been three and a bit weeks since I last played, which is probably the first time I’ve had a break like that in six or seven years. That is fantastic and I wouldn’t be the only one in that boat. They’re managing a lot of players who have had a lot of game-time or coming back from injuries.”
What’s rare is supposed to be wonderful and Ireland will certainly hope that rings true given it will be their first tour of the country since 2004, when Eddie O’Sullivan’s party proved competitive but failed to create history in going down to 14-point and nine-point defeats.
Schmidt showed the current crop a video of that second Test, one which featured his forwards coach Simon Easterby and his brother and Leinster manager Guy, in a bid to get across just how small the margins will be in two months’ time.
“They put themselves in a situation to win, had the opportunities, and the difference was just a bad exit at the end of the game,” Heaslip explained. “They got a penalty, exited bad and then South Africa got back in their half and killed the final couple of minutes.
“Going down there, those are opportunities that are not going to come around that often. They’ve got multiple threats: A great passing game, they’ve got ability throughout their back as well as a massive pack and ball carriers who can provide that kind of platform that every team wants.”
Much more DVD analysis awaits Heaslip & Co. who have been told to keep a close eye on the South African franchises and their individual players in the ongoing Super Rugby campaign.
Every nugget of info will help. Heaslip knows that from his time touring there with the Lions in 2009.
He reminisced yesterday about his first training session on arrival in Johannesburg seven years ago and how the ‘minging’ heat and humidity beat him after just a half-lap warm-up run.
It’s even worse at a higher altitude in Pretoria but he is a fan of the experience all the same.
The stadiums, with their wall-like stands built close in to the turf, add to the intensity.
“There is this heaviness. You feel like you’re in a Coliseum.”
Only Cardiff, when the roof is closed, comes close to anything else he has experienced.
“I’ve said to the lads the most intimidating atmosphere I’ve ever experienced was down in Pretoria and the stadium was amazing. They love their rugby. New Zealand is pretty hard place to go to because it’s rugby 24/7. They’re lovely away from the field (in South Africa), but when they start talking about rugby and the Springboks, they are very passionate about it.
“That passion spills into the players when they are around that. They know what they’re representing, the emotion attached to that jersey. They’re pretty big news in South Africa and they’ve earned that kind of respect over the years. That’s what makes it pretty intimidating for us.”
It is a task that has been beyond every Irish team to play there and Ireland may not be helped by the fact that Allister Coetzee is new in the door as head coach, which makes scouting work and prep on individual players and systems much more of a guessing game.
A big ask, then, but Heaslip is emphatic when asked if Ireland can succeed this time.
“I don’t see any reason why not, would be my answer.”
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