sport

Heaslip thrilled with captaincy

Jamie Heaslip revealed that Brian O'Driscoll was among the first to congratulate him when he was appointed Ireland captain for the Six Nations.

Heaslip wanted to kiss coach Declan Kidney when he learnt of his promotion last Wednesday, but his jubilation meant disappointment for the 34-year-old he has succeeded.

It is the first time O'Driscoll has been overlooked for the post since succeeding Keith Wood in 2004 and his absence from today's tournament launch, where he has been a perennial fixture for a decade, confirmed the changing of the guard.

One of the biggest decisions of Kidney's five-year reign has been condemned in some quarters as the 2005 Lions skipper was eager to resume a role he was forced to relinquish last November because of an ankle injury and has filled with distinction on 83 previous occasions.

But Heaslip has been assured that he will have the full support of his Leinster colleague, regardless of his thoughts on the captaincy. "Brian and I tend to be in early for training at Leinster and we spoke about it then. He came straight up to me, shook my hand and told me he's 100% behind me," the 29-year-old said.

"He told me that if I need any advice or help just to ask, which I have been doing......I've probably been annoying him actually!

"Back in November, after calling my parents and my girlfriend, he was the next person I called to get some pointers.

"It's fantastic he's in the squad and that I can call on a player of his experience.

"The dynamic between us won't change at all. I've been captain of Leinster in the past while he's been on the pitch.

"I've also been on the pitch when he's been captain or when neither of us have been captain and he's the same individual and player regardless.

"Brian deserves all the respect and accolades that he has. They're pretty big shoes to fill and hopefully I'll do an all right job."

O'Driscoll has played only three matches since undergoing ankle surgery in November and will start Ireland's Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday week.

Part of Kidney's reasoning behind opting for Heaslip was to enable O'Driscoll, who remains an outside contender to lead the Lions tour to Australia this summer, to focus on himself.

"It was my decision to give Brian a bit of space that he himself didn't want just to get himself right," Kidney said.

"Brian reacted to the decision like the man he is and took it in exactly the same way as he plays."

Heaslip, whose father Richard is a retired Irish Army colonel and was once a brigadier general at NATO, was beaming at today's Six Nations launch as he outlined what the captaincy meant to him.

"I'm still wet behind the ears so it's great, I'm buzzing. It's really exciting to come here," the Leinster number eight said.

"I've been feeling really giddy and haven't stopped smiling since I got here....maybe it's the double espresso from the early start!

"I found out about the captaincy last Wednesday evening. Declan gave me a call to go and see him.

"In I went and after a bit of chit chat he asked me to do the job. I nearly had to stop myself jumping across the table to kiss him, which would have made it really awkward in a room with just two guys!

"I was really proud and humbled by it all. There were all sorts of emotions flying around.

"I made the obligatory call to the parents. My dad straight away said 'fair play, you've been promoted, but I'm still colonel while you're a major, so I'm pulling rank on you'. I said 'thanks dad, back to reality as usual'.

"In November I think I went OK. I learnt a lot very quickly. I always try to lead by example on and off the field.

"The way you carry yourself on and off the field and your lifestyle are important.

"So too is the fact you're representing all your peers and team-mates, management, family, friends and fans.

"Ireland fans hold the green jersey in high regard and the fact you're representing that is a pretty humbling experience."