Has The Number 8 Jersey Slipped Through Jamie Heaslip’s Fingers?
Is Heaslip’s time up?
After the second bonus point victory of the season for Leinster and another MOTM performance by the ever impressive Jack Conan, it may be time to ask the question whether or not Jamie Heaslip’s 11-year tenure as Leinster and Ireland’s starting number 8 is finally over.
While showing early promise after leaving the Leinster Academy a year early, Conan was left frustrated having to miss the guts of the next couple of seasons due to a number of injuries. These setbacks however, did not stop the 25-year-old as he returned to action in the 2016/17 season. Conan managed to display his considerable talents to a European audience with a terrific MOTM performance in the Champions Cup pool stage match against Montpellier, grabbing a hat-trick in the process. Since then the Wicklow native has not taken the foot off the pedal and has continued to excite Leinster and Ireland fans with his explosive running and deft handling.
In contrast, Heaslip has had a difficult 2017, highlighted by his ‘potentially career ending’ back injury which he picked up just before Ireland’s crucial Six Nations game against England. The injury had come as a major surprise to most, as the former Newbridge man had only sparsely been injured throughout his decorated career and his time on the sideline now opened the door for potential usurpers Conan and CJ Stander, to stake a claim for the coveted number 8 jersey at both club and country level respectively.
Heaslip’s injury also came at a time when calls were being made by sections of Irish and Leinster fans for him to be dropped in place of the more dynamic and younger alternatives. While at the time it seemed unlikely that Cullen or Schmidt would drop the 2016 World Rugby Player of the Year nominee, the idea that he could now be dropped seems more likely since they have seen what the replacements can offer.
Despite the fact that Jamie was given a central contract with the IRFU at the beginning of the year until the 2019 Rugby World Cup, it is this author’s view that barring injuries he would be lucky to get into the matchday 23 by the time the boys in green land in the land of the rising sun.
While Heaslip has been a great servant to Irish Rugby for over a decade, it is very possible that as the business end’s of the Champions Cup and PRO14 roll around we may well find ourselves in the situation where he is no longer the man with the number 8 plastered on his back. It will be a big change for Leinster fans, but perhaps a welcome one due to the continued progress of ‘Conan the Barbarian’.