Ireland look to the future by making Heaslip captain

 

Jamie Heaslip yesterday admitted he was "humbled" at being asked to lead Ireland for the first time as succession planning for the captaincy began.

With Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Rory Best injured, Heaslip will be in command for tomorrow's game against South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Either O'Driscoll and O'Connell, captains of the last two Lions tours, have provided inspirational leadership dating back to 2004, apart from the occasional interruption. But the injury crisis that has decimated Irish ranks has forced coach Declan Kidney to reveal his hand for the future, with Heaslip beating Jonathan Sexton to the honour.

The 28-year-old Lions No 8 is unbeaten as a deputising skipper of Leinster and hopes that run continues in an Ireland jersey.

"I was in Baggott Street getting my mate an engagement card when I got the heads up from Declan about it," Heaslip said.

"I was in Tesco and I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt like going out and celebrating. It felt like my first cap again.

"It's great. I rang my parents straight away and I'm humbled by the decision. I'm proud to lead this group of players. Once we get on to the pitch everyone will be on automatic pilot because we have such great leaders within the team."

Kidney revealed that it has been a long-term process, as Heaslip has been groomed for the position over the past year.

"We talked with Jamie about the job and he's shown good potential with Leinster," Kidney said. "There were other guys holding their hands up for the job but the time is right for Jamie."

Apart from O'Connell, O'Driscoll and Best, Ireland will also be missing Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris and Rob Kearney tomorrow, leaving a massive gap in the side.

"When you lose players of their experience it's always going to be a hurdle to overcome," Kidney said. "But that's why we've been building a squad over the last couple of years – we always knew this day would come.

"We always hoped it would be drip fed rather than en bloc," he added, "but such is the way of things."

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