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Graham Jenkins
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Graham Jenkins is a former senior editor of ESPNscrum
British & Irish Lions
Heaslip ready to make his mark for Lions
Graham Jenkins
May 24, 2009
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip celebrates with the Heineken Cup following his side's victory over Leicester, Leicester v Leinster, Heineken Cup Final, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, May 23, 2009
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip celebrates with the Heineken Cup following his province's victory over Leicester at Murrayfield © Getty Images
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Jamie Heaslip's feet have hardly touched the ground since Leinster's Heineken Cup victory and he hopes that feel-good factor will continue as the British & Irish Lions head to South Africa.

The powerful No.8 scored a vital try in his province's memorable 19-16 victory over Leicester at Murrayfield on Saturday that saw them clinch Europe's biggest prize for the first time. A flight back to Dublin and a night of celebration followed before the rising star boarded another flight along with his fellow Lions Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney to join up with the rest of the squad this morning.

As a result the amiable Irishman, who was also a stand-out performer in Ireland's Six Nations Grand Slam triumph earlier this year, was keen to find some shade as Scrum.com caught up with him at the Lions' luxurious Surrey base ahead of their departure for South Africa.

"It's all a bit of blur," admitted the bleary-eyed 25-year-old when asked if Leinster's triumph had sunk in. "But I did get to go out and celebrate last night. The whole team flew back to Dublin and we all went out together and had a good craic, I got a couple of power naps in there but I'm feeling good. It was all a bit of a rush getting over here, getting the bag packed and it's only now that I'm just starting to get a little bit excited."

Heaslip refused to let his mind get ahead of him in terms of the Lions as Leinster made their bid for glory and admitted that the fact he was poised to go into battle in the famous red jersey had yet to hit home. But make no mistake - he remains focused on the challenge ahead and set his sights on lining up against the Springboks.

"That's what it is all about," he insists, "getting out there, and getting the Test jersey. But there's a lot to come before that - a lot of training, a lot of warm-up games, a tough schedule physically and mentally. I don't think we're in a place for more than three days, you're hopping about the place, midweek games, all at the end of a long season. You've got to keep the body and mind fresh which is going to be a challenge in itself as well as trying to learn a whole new set of calls and moves."

And what a season that has been for the Heaslip - who was the 1000th player to be capped by Ireland when he made his debut in 2006. A stunning try against France in Ireland's opening Six Nations victory and another against Scotland and a series of barn-storming displays ensured he caught the eye of Lions head coach Ian McGeechan.

Like many of the class of 2009, Heaslip's own recollections of the Lions can be traced back to the victorious 1997 tour to South Africa that he remembers watching as a teenager and little did he know that he would be part of the elite tourists' next visit to the country.

He is tipped for a pivotal role in the Lions' bid for another piece of history and he is relishing the match-up with the likes of Bulls and Springboks giant Pierre Spies who delivered his latest eye-catching performance in the Super 14 semi-final victory over the Crusaders on the same day Leinster lifted the European club crown.

"I know he's a good player, and I know he's a confident player," said Heaslip with a smile on his face before admitting that he had spoken to his Leinster team mate and former Wallabies backrow Rocky Elsom on how best to deal with the 6ft 5in and 17st star. "To be honest I haven't seen much of him but I'm sure he'll be covered in our video analysis. He seems to be doing a lot of damage for the Bulls and when he gets his chance with South Africa.

"I was trying to get some inside tips on how to deal with him from Rocky, but we'll have our homework done on him and the others - they've got so many powerful players."

For now Heaslip's priority is to get settled in although there is little time to rest at the hotel with the squad's imminent departure. He has had little time to reflect on the fact he is set to become a Lions but he is keen to embrace his Lions experience from here on in.

"I haven't even trained yet," he said ruefully. "All the lads have had a week's training and they sort of know what they are going to be doing and I'm still oblivious to it all so I don't really know what has been going on.

"I'm looking forward to getting out there and training with the guys and hopefully playing in a game. At the moment I'm just happy to be here and get my bag packed. I just want to make sure I get on that plane!"

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