Italy v Ireland, Six Nations, March 16
Heaslip issues rallying cry
March 15, 2013
Jamie Heaslip scored Ireland's only try against France last weekend © PA Photos
Jamie Heaslip has urged Ireland to conclude the Six Nations in the same way it began - with a try-scoring flourish.
The climax to their championship awaits against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in the first of tomorrow's three games, with Declan Kidney's side able to finish anywhere from third to last. Six weeks ago they opened the tournament with a 30-22 victory over Wales in Cardiff, establishing a 30-3 lead with a clinical three-try flurry against the title contenders. But an injury crisis and inability to capitalise on winning positions has reduced them to playing for pride on the final weekend.
"We've created opportunities in the last three games but just haven't been clinical enough," Ireland captain Heaslip said. "I would love it if we came out this weekend with all guns blazing, taking every opportunity that comes our way.
"Sometimes that doesn't happen and you have to grind it out. Italy aren't going to make things easy at all and will be going for it as well."
The injury curse that has pursued Ireland throughout the Six Nations claimed another victim on Thursday when Jonathan Sexton was ruled out of the showdown in Rome with a foot injury. Sexton had only just recovered from the hamstring strain that sidelined him against Scotland and France and Ireland were eager to restore the Leinster fly-half to their starting XV.
Paddy Jackson, who has been competent in Sexton's absence, continues at 10 with Ian Madigan offering cover from the bench. At first glance the loss of Sexton, a proven match-winner and the leading contender to be the Lions' Test fly-half in Australia this summer, will have done coach Kidney's chances of earning a contract extension beyond the summer little good as a first Six Nations loss to Italy would surely seal his fate.
But the latest setback may actually increase the groundswell of sympathy felt towards the coach in reaction to the ever-growing number of casualties that have left him fire-fighting at every turn. It could be the last match of Kidney's reign and may also be Brian O'Driscoll's final outing in the Six Nations, with his future undecided beyond the summer.
"No one knows what's going to happen in the future, we don't have a crystal ball. Everyone's been focused on Italy," Heaslip said. "The whole squad are 100% behind the management, staff and whole set-up.
"We've been trying to work out how many professional games Brian's played and it's knocking on the door of 330 at this stage. That's impressive, but then he's an impressive player. He's a great squad guy and we're just glad to have him on the team."
Heaslip is wary of the challenge posed by Italy's back row at the Stadio Olimpico, but while Sergio Parisse is usually highlighted as the main threat, Alessandro Zanni received the most wholesome praise from the Leinster No.8.
"They have a massive and very good back row. Zanni is the one who stands out for me. He's a great player who gets through a lot of work," Heaslip said. "He plays well alongside Sergio and has caused a lot of problems for us at Leinster when he's played for Treviso.
"We'll have our hands full with their back-row unit and the whole pack. They hold onto the ball very well and work it through the phases. Italy have come on leaps and bounds with their addition to the RaboDirect PRO12. They now have a lot of different threats because of the experience they have gathered."
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel
"We were only five metres away in the last Test of getting that try and with Jonny's inevitable conversion, we'd have won it." Tom Hamilton talks to Lions fullback Matt Perry
Toulon's Heineken Cup final victory over Clermont Auvergne may have ended a long title drought for the Top 14 club but two of their players are no strangers to success