Heaslip sees breakdown battle

Jamie Heaslip says the battle of the breakdown will be a major factor when the British & Irish Lions take on the Waratahs on Saturday and the Qantas Wallabies a week later. [more]

Heaslip sees breakdown battle

Jamie Heaslip says the battle of the breakdown will be a major factor when the British & Irish Lions take on the Waratahs on Saturday and the Qantas Wallabies a week later.

Heaslip will start at No8 in Sydney in The Lions’ fourth game in Australia and their fifth on tour as Warren Gatland’s men look to extend their winning run prior to Tuesday’s clash with the Brumbies and the long-awaited Test series opener on June 22.

Winning the ball on the floor is often the difference between tasting victory or defeat on the big stage, especially when northern hemisphere sides meet their southern hemisphere counterparts and interpretations of the laws are tested.

Heaslip admits that the Australian teams have an effective approach to ruck time and that he and his colleagues are working hard to ensure that The Lions can more than hold their own in this crucial area in the coming weeks.  

“It’s a big area that we’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks and we’ve been drilled on it this morning – when the backs were taking a rest!” said Heaslip, who feels that getting low and hitting hard will be vital to getting quick ball and to disrupting Australian momentum.

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“We’re in a good place with it. We’re aware of it and we’re addressing it.

“The whole thing with the breakdown is that you’ve got to take that space, win the shoulder battle and get in underneath that person. If you lose the shoulder battle it can be quite hard to create quick ball. People get in there and they mess it up.

“These guys get in real low, real early and really quick to take that space. We’ve got to challenge ourselves to get in underneath them, take that space, get over the ball on our ball and not let them disrupt it.

“On their ball, we’ve got to try and get in. They’re very good at stopping you from getting the poaches because they come in and hit you so low and get you off the ball.

“That’s how they play down her, and they play with a lot of quick ball because of that reason.”

Heaslip lines up with Sam Warburton in the back row having not had the opportunity to play alongside the skipper so far on tour.

The Leinster stalwart – who at 29 and with 57 Ireland caps and three Lions Test appearances to his name is the oldest and most experienced back rower in the squad – is looking forward to packing down alongside the Wales openside after letting the banter fly following Warburton’s first Lions outing against the Reds a week ago.

“I’m looking forward to playing with Sam. Having played against him, he’s a handful,” added Heaslip.

“I haven’t played with him yet. I was giving him a bit of stick to last until at least half time this time before he starts blowing hard!

“I was feeling for him in the Reds game when George North made a break and he ran a really, really good support line – he said himself that he was absolutely shattered at the end of it! That’s why he took a while to get up afterwards: there was nothing wrong with him, he was just taking his time!

“If Lyds (Dan Lydiate) gets on as well I’m looking to playing a little bit with him – I (just) played 20 minutes or so with him in Hong Kong. I’ve played a good bit with Crofty (Tom Croft) so I’m kinda used to Crofty. I always like playing with good players and they’re some of the best.”

As for the opposition, Heaslip expects a tough examination of The Lions’ credentials on Saturday, thanks in no small part to the fact that the Waratahs are coached by former Leinster boss Michael Cheika.

Heaslip starred under Cheika between 2005 and 2010 and he knows all about the intensity and enthusiasm that the Australian will bring to this weekend’s fixture, as well as the expectations he will place on his players to give The Lions a rough ride.

“If I know Cheiks, he will definitely want to establish a foothold through his pack. He’s always tried to get his players to be quite physical, especially around the breakdown, the way they carry and in defence. That whole contact zone is going to be a challenge.

“As a player who had Cheiks as a coach, I know all too well what he’s like. I know how he’s going to try and motivate his players and we’ve got to be prepared for that.

“We’ve got to give them the respect that they deserve but we’ve also got to focus on ourselves and tidy up a lot of our drills from Tuesday night and from the previous week. We’ve got to keep that momentum going.

“It will be a step up, but I haven’t really seen a whole lot of them – with the way this tour has gone, you’re trying to catch your own feet really.

“I think on Tuesday you saw the difference between a fully professional side and a mix (of amateurs and professionals). I’d imagine this game on Saturday is going to be a lot different. It’s going to be challenging.

“We want to be constantly challenged and constantly pushed and that’s what we’re looking for this weekend.”

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