British & Irish Lions number eight Jamie Heaslip has admitted that he struggled to keep his inclusion in the starting line-up for Saturday’s first Test against South Africa from his family and friends.
Lions boss Ian McGeechan announced the match 22 to the players on Wednesday evening but all present were ordered not to reveal the team to anyone until the following morning.
”That was tough,” Heaslip confessed. “I couldn’t even tell my folks!
”But it was great. I was delighted but it was a bit overwhelming, a bit mental and a little bit weird.”
For Heaslip, the fact that he is rooming with Andy Powell, his principle rival for the number eight jersey, his inclusion in the Test XV could also have been a bit weird, the cause of some consternation between the pair.
However, Heaslip revealed that the Welshman had been among the first to congratulate him.
”He just came up and said ‘well done’. He’s the type of guy that isn’t going to hold anything against me; he’s just going to go out and train as hard as he can to get back into contention,” he said.
”And all of the guys that didn’t get picked trained really well today [Thursday], running opposition plays really well and just getting us ready for the game.
”I don’t think anyone’s holding any grudges. It’s all just about winning the series. There are 36 guys here and it’s a squad effort. It’s not just about the 22.”
Heaslip will be joined in The Lions back row in Durban by David Wallace and Tom Croft. The trio has been teamed together on two previous occasions on the Tour and that, Heaslip feels, should work in their favor.
”I’ve obviously played a fair amount of games with Wally anyway but it’s good that I’ve now played with Crofty now twice," the Kildare man mused.
”So, as long as we can divide up the work and make sure that one of us is near the breakdown every time, as a link between forwards and backs, I think we can cause them some hassle.”
However, Heaslip freely admits that the South African back row is a world-class unit. Indeed, he has an enormous amount of respect for his opposite number, the much revered Pierre Spies.
”You want to be playing against good players and he’s playing some great rugby at the moment, so it’s going to be a challenge to go up against a player of his quality,” Heaslip conceded.
”I’ve been lucky in that I’ve played against a lot of great number eights this year and he’s going to be another guy that will show me where I’m at as a player, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Heaslip, a man so laid-back that he regularly falls asleep on the bus journey to games, is also looking forward to the challenge of trying to stay awake on the short trip from the team's hotel to the King's Park Stadium.
”It’s such a weird thing! I think it’s just the bus thing that wrecks me," he exclaims.
"It’s odd but at least we don’t have too far to travel this time so I don’t think I’ll fall asleep this time. I should manage to stay awake!”