He is just seven Ireland caps short of a century and has a list of honours many fellow professional rugby players can only dream about, yet a World Cup success with Ireland remains the missing link between Jamie Heaslip and a career fulfilled.
Three Heineken Cup victories with Leinster, the 2009 Grand Slam and two Six Nations titles since have not sated the 33-year-old No.8’s desire for more silverware.
Rather, with a new IRFU contract signed last week to see him through to after the 2019 World Cup, his appetite is as voracious as ever.
“There is one thing I haven’t won that I would like to win,” Heaslip said yesterday as preparations began for Saturday’s Six Nations home clash with France. “I would like to add a couple of more things to what Leinster have won as well. I like winning.
“I think any professional player that has ambition (does). I’ve been lucky to have a lot of success. It actually makes you hungry for more.
“It makes all the crazy stuff that we do, sacrifice-wise, family-wise, friends-wise, pay off in a big, big way. That is something that drives me.”
Heaslip is set to win his 94th cap for Ireland this weekend and with five Tests played for the British & Irish Lions in 2009 and 2013, this weekend’s clash with the French will mark his 100th international.
It marks another high point in a long career he did not envisage continuing to the next World Cup when Ireland crashed out in the 2015 quarter-finals. Following that defeat to Argentina he said he did not see himself playing through to Japan 2019 but yesterday he qualified that as not wanting to tempt fate.
“In 2015, I probably just meant you just don’t know in rugby. I’ve seen too many guys, my peers, guys who started the same time as me, guys who started after me, who had career-ending injuries. You just don’t know. That’s probably what I meant.
“I felt very lucky to be able to go to two of them and, if I get a chance to go to a third, that would be amazing. What drives me is adding value to the club or the country, to the jersey. I still think I can add a lot of value to it.”
The IRFU clearly feel he has more value to add to their teams and despite flirting with a move overseas, Heaslip is happy staying put to at least a month shy of his 36th birthday in December 2019.
“I won’t talk about the reasons but I am happy with my decision,” he said.
“The environment ... I can’t speak about the other clubs but the environment in Leinster I have been lucky enough to visit other places, sporting environments, not necessarily rugby, and Leinster is one of the best facilities out there.
"We are very lucky we have some of the best coaches right now in our club, best S&C (strength and conditioning), amenities like I said, and a really strong culture and identity.
“Culture goes a long way. You can have all the money in the world but not have any culture and I think for sustained success of an organisation or a club it is really important going forward.
"And then on top of that, you have the IRFU who are being really, really progressive and proactive in looking after their players and making sure that… they talk about managing playing and training loads and they are really proactive and there is a good relationship between country and club.
"Obviously, it is all geared towards the national team going well but not to the detriment of the clubs so there is a very good relationship balance there.
“I guess it is not easy at times but I have had a very good experience over the last 12 years in Leinster and Ireland and just really lucky to be able to crack on and give it another lash for it just over another two years.
“I physically and mentally feel very good. I just thought the opportunity that was ahead of me, the decisions, all the things that go on in my life that was the best decision for what I wanted to do, according to what I’m about, what my values are about.
“I’m very happy.”
While Heaslip turned his back on a move to France, his former Leinster team-mate Ian Madigan was yesterday reported to have asked his Top 14 club Bordeaux Begles to be released from his two-year deal after just 12 months.
Ireland fly-half Madigan, 27, has been linked with a move to the English Premiership and Heaslip said: “I have a lot of time for Ian, I thought it was the right decision (to leave Leinster) at the time. He is a smart guy and I just hope he makes the right decision.”
Ireland team manager and former fly-half Paul Dean replied in the affirmative when asked whether the IRFU was doing everything possible to bring Madigan home.
“I’d personally love to see him back in Ireland. We’ll be able to invite him to the sessions, keep an eye on him and watch his progress.
“It’s difficult when you’re abroad, as we all know. He’d be better coming home in my book, let’s say.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved