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Cut Jamie Heaslip down to size and Glasgow can prosper

When Glasgow Warriors take the field against Leinster tomorrow night in the RaboDirect PRO12 final in Dublin they will line up against some of the finest players in European rugby.

Jamie Heaslip represents a potent threat to Glasgow's hopes of securing a win in Dublin. Picture: Getty Images
Jamie Heaslip represents a potent threat to Glasgow's hopes of securing a win in Dublin. Picture: Getty Images

They will also face a player who is arguably the closest thing the sport has to a perpetual motion machine.

To call Jamie Heaslip tireless would understate his energy levels to a considerable degree. Granted, the No.8 has played in just 10 of Leinster's 23 PRO12 matches this season but that figure is a reflection of their strength in depth rather than an asterisk against his abilities as a player. At the higher level, he was chosen for all seven of the side's Heineken Cup games and was also the only player to play every minute of Ireland's eight Tests throughout November and the RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Such figures are more often clocked up by players who are in the first flush of youth, who have energy and vigour and enthusiasm on their side, but Heaslip is fast approaching his 31st birthday, has 65 Ireland appearances under his belt and came into the current campaign on the back of a ferocious tour of Australia with the Lions last year.

Time to ease off? Not yet. When the PRO12 final is over, he will grab a few hours' sleep and then set off on Ireland's two-Test trip to Argentina. Only when that venture is behind him will he grab a short break and then pile into pre-season training for the 2014/15 campaign.

Heaslip first came into the Leinster side a decade ago, by which time players such as Brian O'Driscoll, Felipe Contepomi, Malcom O'Kelly and Gordon D'Arcy had already established the Dublin outfit among the European elite. In some eyes, he is still part of the second wave of Leinster greats, but he unquestionably brought a hardness, harshness and focus which were instrumental in transforming the perennial Heineken Cup bridesmaids into three-time champions.

Their hopes of a fourth title were dynamited at the quarter-final stage of this season's competition when they were beaten 29-14 by eventual winners Toulon. But Leinster endured a similar setback last year - worse, in fact, as they did not even reach the European knockout phase - yet still recovered to clinch the PRO12 title when they beat Ulster in the final game of the club season.

Leinster are short-odds favourites to repeat that achievement against Glasgow this weekend. Glasgow, with nine consecutive PRO12 wins under their belts, have momentum on their side, but the Irish side have the big-game experience that can so often be the most significant factor in these circumstances. Leinster also have the powerful emotional spur of the fact that Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen will be playing their last games for the side. Even so, Heaslip is taking nothing for granted and acknowledges that the Warriors will comprise formidable opponents.

"We know them all too well," said Heaslip. "We've had them in Europe, playing in knockouts and the league. They're a combative side, they're playing like a really good collective team that know what they're about and how they want to play.

"They've got real momentum behind them, quality players and it's not going to be easy going up against them. We played them in the semis last year [when Leinster won 17-15 at the RDS] and I think everyone can agree that game could have gone either way. We know the margins that are there."

The numbers are tight indeed. Their last eight PRO12 meetings have all been settled by a margin of less than a converted try. Leinster won four of those encounters, Glasgow three, with one drawn. Ominously for Warriors supporters, however, Leinster have made home advantage count. Glasgow have won just once in their last 19 visits to Dublin.

"It could have gone either way," said Heaslip of their semi-final encounter 12 months ago. "There was just once score between us and Glasgow. That was down to that ball we held up on the line when they nearly went in for a try, or it could have been a very different game. We know all too well what it's going to take.

"It's fantastic to be playing in the RDS again. It's a great atmosphere and a real cauldron but, at the same time, teams are used to that. With the momentum they have, they are not going to be afraid coming over here. We're all too aware of the threats they're going to pose."

And Glasgow, for their part, are only too well aware of the threat Heaslip poses. An athlete he may be, but he is also a beast at the breakdown, combining strength, aggression and technical excellence over the ball. The Glasgow and Leinster back rows appear evenly balanced, but Heaslip stands above all the other breakaways in terms of proven quality and experience. If the Warriors are to win this match, they must first subdue him.

He knows it, too. "They've got some really good people on the ground," he said. "They're good in terms of tackles. More often than not they have got someone else in on the ball, slowing momentum down. They're strong around the rucks so they don't leak any easy metres there. It's a thing they obviously work on.

"These are all headaches for our attacking coaches to try and break them down. It puts it on us, as players, to try and execute their game plans."

It is a fiendishly difficult game to call. In Scottish terms, Glasgow can make history tomorrow, but Leinster are not without motivation either.

"We play to our standard and we'll get the outcome we deserve on the day," said Heaslip. "That's how we measure ourselves. Are trophies what we judge ourselves on? Not really. We kind of judge ourselves on our everyday standards.

"So we don't sit down and say: 'We want to win this, we want to win that'. Those days are kind of gone. It's more about what we want to be known as. As a bloke, what do you want your team-mates to say about you? What do you want the guys who play against you to say about you and your club? They're the kind of things we try and judge ourselves on."

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