Heaslip wary of Italians
Jamie Heaslip fears that Italy will be fired up for their trip to Croke Park by their failure to join the Magners League.
By Rachel Griffiths
Last Updated: 05/02/10 3:36pm
Jamie Heaslip fears that Italy will be fired up by their failure to join the Magners League in their RBS Six Nations opener at Croke Park on Saturday.
Talks over the admission of Italian clubs into the competition broke down due to an inability to meet the Celts' financial demands, leaving Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) bosses enraged.
The Azzurri, traditionally the underdogs of the Six Nations, were seeking to become more competitive by ensuring Magners League status for two of their domestic teams.
The FIR have suggested they were intentionally priced out of negotiations and are likely to see the clash against Ireland, who have supplied the last two Magners League champions in Munster and Leinster, as an opportunity to exact revenge.
"Italy are a class outfit and they might feel they have something to prove," admitted Ireland number eight Heaslip.
"They might have something against the Irish team now that Italy didn't get the nod for the Magners League.
"We'll have to bring our 'A game' anyway because that's the way this championship has gone over the last couple of years.
"We play against the Italian players in the Heineken Cup - they're big and they bash you about. They hit hard, have some skilful players and seriously good finishers."
Italy are largely tipped to finish the tournament as wooden spoonists, meaning defending champions Ireland have been handed the best possible opener.
The Irish were unbeaten at the end of last year, bringing down world champions South Africa in the process, but Heaslip insists there is no complacency in the team.
"It's been pretty much the same feeling as last season. We had a good year and people are talking about expectations, but that's external," he said.
"We've set the bar high for ourselves and we're concerned about meeting that standard that we've set."
Heaslip will be joined in the back row for the game by Leinster colleague Kevin McLaughlin, who will be making his first international outing after Stephen Ferris was ruled out with a knee injury.
"I had a feeling Kevin was going to be selected. I'm happy for him, he deserves it as he's been playing some great rugby this season," said Heaslip.
"He's coming into his own after having a run of games. He's stayed injury free and has gone from strength to strength."