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Saturday, 25 May 2013

Rabo Pro 12 final 2013, Leinster Rugby, Ulster Rugby, RDS Dublin, Jamie Heaslip

Rabo Pro 12 final 2013, Leinster Rugby, Ulster Rugby, RDS Dublin, Jamie Heaslip

Too cool for school maybe, but Jamie Heaslip cares profoundly about his profession. He’s certainly no rugby nerd, by his own admission, and is famed for his pre-match naps, incurring the wrath of some for wearing his headphones in the pre-match preambles, but he is devoted to the game, addicted to winning, but although losing hurts, he’s not one to dwell on things and remains uber positive in outlook.

Take a Look inside the Lansdowne Hotel  

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An hour in his company can slip by easily as he talks happily about all things rugby and one comes away with the feeling that perhaps his desire has been intensified with the passing years and particularly the Irish captaincy.

Joe Schmidt has regularly turned to Heaslip as captain when Leo Cullen is not there, as was the case for last week’s Amlin Challenge Cup final, and Declan Kidney having made his call, there will be no complaints if Schmidt retains Heaslip as captain through to the next World Cup.
At face value, it certainly didn’t look a pleasant experience for him especially.

He relives the pain of those three defeats and even the win that got away in the draw with France. He admits found the immediate post-match interview, when feeling raw, very tough. You line up the question of captaining Ireland again, anticipating a diplomatic response, but there’s no need.

“It’s strange. I loved every minute of it! There’s no other honour really that you could really take, captaining your country. It’s Roy of the Rovers type of stuff and yeah, the results didn’t come our way, and yeah, it was a bit of a steep learning curve, but I loved it.

“I absolutely loved it. It was such a huge honour and I’ll bite the hand off Joe if he lets me be the captain again. I couldn’t believe it that I was captain even last week.”

Heaslip’s captaincy of Ireland in the November Tests and the anti-climactic Six Nations typified what he describes as a “roller coaster” of a season, which also saw Leinster miss out on the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup, yet today offers the possibility of a second trophy with a Lions tour to come.

“It was really weird. It gets you a little bit giddy and then you realise how much you’re not in sync with them yet. All the lads are getting their chats going on. They’ve got that first day of school stuff out of the way and we were kind of very much still a little bit on the outside.”

Besides, he has a final to focus on today, so he left the Lions to their night out by 9pm. Like most rugby pros he’s also good at compartmentalising things. They have to be. So Heaslip enjoyed last Friday night and parked it Saturday morning.

“You have to celebrate these things. Like, I mean, why do you play otherwise? So we celebrated on Friday and that was it. I disappeared then. I live right beside the stadium so I purposely got out of Dodge, went down to Monart (Spa), just relaxed, recovered and made sure Monday morning like everyone else that we were good to for a full week of hard bloody work.”

This also betrays his utmost respect for Ulster. “We’ve played them twice and they’ve beaten us twice and we know the challenge that it’s going to be against these guys. It’s a a huge challenge. They’re playing really, really good rugby. They are a team that if you make mistakes against them, they punish you and make sure you’ve got to be on your game to score.

“You’ve very much got to be on your money to beat these guys. I think that’s why they finished top of the table after such a long season.”

He goes through them player by player, highlighting their array of finishers, their set-piece efficiency, their excellent breakdown work, Ruan Pienaar’s goal-kicking and talks animatedly of all the little things Leinster will have to do well. Herein lies Heaslip, for his game is all about selflessly devoting himself to the team cause.

In keeping with all this, more so even that a third European title in a row, winning a League final is more of a squad effort, and he talks of the responsibility of doing it for the 50-plus players who’ve represented Leinster in the campaign and indeed trained with them.

And while losing to the Ospreys at the RDS might appear to have hurt more after topping the table, he points out: “losing to Munster as well is never nice. But they beat us well in that game and they were deserved winners.”

Rugby Day Dreams at the Lansdowne Hotel

It was Mid-day Friday the 17th of May 2013; I was sitting quietly in the cobbled resting area at the front of the Lansdowne Hotel enjoying my break, birds whistled gently in the shrubbery as they went about feeding their young, the soft leaves of summer whispered in the light breeze that filled the Mid-Day air. I sipped on my Mid-Day coffee and pondered upon the events that were about to unfold. Later that day Leinster would face the mighty warriors of Stade Francais in the Amlin Challenge Cup, it was almost overwhelming to be granted the opportunity to watch these Titans in battle, but also, as so often happens, rub shoulders with the giants of European rugby as they mingled in the Den Bar after the game.

Now and on reflection of the Amlin Challenge Cup 2013, it was a great game, and while Leinster (34) dominated the score board compared to Stade Francais (13), both teams dominated all that was good about the game of rugby, fantastic sportsmen, with Stade Fracais bringing that very special French love of life to Dublin.

This was the first time the Amlin Challenge Cup Final was played in Ireland, and it was fitting that two great rugby nations stood shoulder to shoulder on the battle field of sporting kings. While the native Kings of Leinster may have claimed the silver, the royal French sportsmen and their tribe of glorious fans could celebrate with their heads held high as they served their country well. Leinster will now march forward to the Heineken Cup in 2014, but they will stand better prepared due to their encounter with the mighty Stade Fracais. This Amlin Challenge Cup Final 2013 has taught all of us, that the Spirit of rugby, is much more than the winning and losing of a game.

Then I began to think about what Saturday would bring, the Heineken Cup Final 2013 at our world famous Aviva Stadium. As the birds continued to hop about and forage for food, butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I contemplated the fact that on Saturday 18th May 2013 two of the greatest Rugby Teams in European and World Rugby would step on to the manicured grounds of the Aviva. Toulon and Claremont Auvergne are names that are revered in International Rugby, whatever the final result of the Heineken Cup 2013; I knew in my heart that this would be a momentous occasion.

As the Mid-Day sun slipped behind a threatening cloud, I was awakened from my Day Dreaming by the sound of “bonjour”, I instantly replied “bonjour”, and at times like this I was disappointed with myself for not paying more attention during French lessons many years earlier at school. This Frenchman clad in the tribal colours of Toulon was the first of the clan chieftains to arrive at the Lansdowne, I had to quickly shake myself and return to my duties so that these weary and hungry warriors of the rugby nation could be sheltered, feed and watered. The arrival of the mighty French turned darkness into light, as the clouds shifted and the sun beamed once again across the Heineken promotional goals at the entrance to the Lansdowne Hotel.

As the day progressed and the BBQ exhaled bellows of smoke the soft French tones filled the air, politeness, courtesy and friendliness were the order of the evening with a side order of BBQ meats, fresh salad and pints of black nectar. Our sponsors for the evening, Heineken, were to be thanked for their fantastic efforts in promoting the sport of kings and also for brewing that pint of great beer.

While Friday night at the Lansdowne was the Warm-Up Session for the Heineken Cup on Saturday, Saturday proved to be a festival of great sport and great sportsmanship. On reflection now of that Heineken Cup Final 2013, it was such a fantastic occasion, tens of thousands of International Rugby fans, cheering, Yes, for individual Teams and players, but also cheering for one of the greatest sporting events in the world. The sheer out-pouring of good sportsmanship both on and off the field is an example to the world as to how things should be done and can be done.

In the end Clermont Auvergne seen the silver slip from their grasp, but that did not hold them back from congratulating Toulon the Champions, as both teams had served their country, their fans and the game of rugby to the highest order. They had also paid a great tribute to their host, Ireland, by bringing great sportsmen and world class fans to an Island that always looks to France as an example of all that is good about the game of rugby and international sportsmanship.

On Sunday afternoon the Den Bar in the Lansdowne Hotel was still playing host to many French supporters as they prepared for their journey home after a wonderful weekend of rugby, the match post-mortem continued, the name Wilkinson punched the air, over gently supped pints of black nectar and Heineken gold liquid, the mood was upbeat from the moment they had said “bonjour” until it was time to say, “au revoir”, what a pleasure it was to serve such wonderful people, I look forward to be awakened once again by the soft tones of the French Clan.

The Lansdowne Hotel has been home to Irish and International Rugby Fans and Legends for decades. The Den Bar has been the Oasis in which many thirsts were quenched and the Druid's Restaurant has insured that many tribes have been able to march on a full stomach of fresh locally sourced produce. The Lansdowne Hotel is the perfect rugby hub for games in the RDS and Aviva. Traditional Irish Music sessions beat out the haunting sounds of Irish history and culture in our recreated thatched cottage each Thursday night. The Lansdowne Hotel is a family affair that opens its arms to all visitors with an honest Cead Mile Failte.