Ireland Down Under: Heaslip eager to learn All Blacks' dark arts

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The Independent Online

The Irish would never admit to taking tips from England, but when Sir Clive Woodward's team marched victorious through New Zealand and Australia five summers ago they planned their trip in the same five-star Surrey hotel where Ireland mustered last Wednesday. It is a long shot that a shared taste in four-poster beds and scrambled eggs will bring the same results, but under a caretaker coach at the end of a disappointing season, any boost to the wilting shamrock will do.

Ireland went out of the World Cup at the pool stage, finished fourth in the Six Nations' Championship and gave Eddie O'Sullivan the heave-ho, so there is little expectation ahead of games against the All Blacks this Saturday and the Wallabies the following week. They have faced New Zealand 20 times, with no wins and one draw.

"I suppose the goal for any touring team is to play some good rugby and win their games," said Jamie Heaslip, the LeinsterNo 8 who started Ireland's previous four Tests. "We've got some good players who've been playing a good quality of rugby over the last couple of months. If we find our rhythm and get guys playing off each other we'll be a hard team to stop."

The mention of good quality was not to do with Ireland's lame defeat to England in March – O'Sullivan's last stand – or the win over the Barbarians last Tuesday, but Leinster's Magners League title and Munster's Heineken Cup triumph.

Heaslip, 24, who was Ireland's 1,000th international on his debut in 2006, finished the Six Nations flanked by Munster's David Wallace and Denis Leamy. Younger players introduced only reluctantly by O'Sullivan – including Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald – can now provide fresh momentum.

"I'd say the back row is one of the hardest positions to nail down in Ireland right now," Heaslip said. "There's 'Jenno' [the Leinster flanker Shane Jennings] looking to get a spot, and Alan Quinlan is on form.

"For myself and some of the younger guys who've never played against New Zealand and Australia at a senior level, we'd love the opportunity to measureourselves against them."

Heaslip has some idea what to expect. He was in the Ireland Under-21s beaten 47-19 by New Zealand in the World Championship final in 2004 ("they hockeyed us in that game"). Jerome Kaino was among the opponents, and he may be in the way again as the All Blacks, for different reasons, are also shaking things up. They have lost Jerry Collins who, at 27, walked out of New Zealand rugby last week and is with the Barbarians today. He told The Independent on Sunday his future may lie in Japan, but first he is going home to Wellington on Tuesday "to mow the grass and pick up a week's worth of messages on my cellphone".

Ireland are due in Wellington today before moving on to Melbourne, with Michael Bradley holding the reins until Declan Kidney takes over in the summer. During Kidney's single season with Leinster in 2004-05 he gave Heaslip his first professional contract before Kidney left for a second stint with Munster. At the time Heaslip was studying for a degree in medical mechanical engineering at Dublin City University. A fellow student on the campus was his father Richard, a retired brigadier general who, at 60, went back to college to study international affairs, of all things. "He could have been lecturing in it, really," Heaslip laughed. He was born in Israel and lived in Cyprus and Croatia while his father served with the United Nations forces.

Heaslip was not laughing when the now-departed Leinster backs coach David Knox – an Australian – recently slammed Irish coaching for being too conservative. "Let him mouth off if he wants to mouth off," said Heaslip. No one needs to tell Ireland's tourists they must secure quick ball at the breakdown, a speciality of Heaslip, who is a regular try-scorer. If they get it wrong in Wellington they will die with their boots on. "I'm sure with people like Richie McCaw down there who know the black arts, they will make life hard for us."