Cian Healy – the sturdy, reliable front rower who’s achievements on pitch and charismatic nature off it deem him a firm favourite amongst Leinster and Ireland fans alike. But a recent stint of injury in the lead up to this World Cup placed him in dangerous water. First of all, questions were raised as to whether he would rehab in time after neck surgery, and then it was debated how match fit he would be in order to be selected for Joe Schmidt’s match day squads for Pool D.
However, true to his reputation of being a determined powerhouse and unlikely to miss the chance to represent his country, Healy made his return to international action last weekend in Ireland’s comfortable 50-7 win over Canada. In turn, he featured in the starting XV to take on Romania at Wembley and after playing almost 50 minutes, the loose-head prop seemed pleased with getting more minutes under his belt.
“I’m chuffed. There’s more time to make mistakes though so I’ll just have to brush up on my sharpness. It was good to get some time and open up the lungs a bit.”
Speaking after the match to Last Word on Sports, it was clear to see how important this opportunity was for him; to silence those doubting his fitness and to take on a side that physically demanded more from the Irish. Renowned for his strength (teammate Jamie Heaslip hails him as the strongest player when in the gym, regularly bench pressing more than 200kg) Healy credited the Romanian pack’s power and how that influenced Ireland’s game plan.
“We knew it was going to be a physical game and in the first few minutes I remember carrying this one guy and it felt like I’d hit a brick wall, so they were there to prove a point. You’ve got to go through them before you go around them and I think we did that well. We built our momentum and finally let the lads out wide to score some tries, but we can’t do that without having it up there in the front. The thing about them [Romania] and us is that we’re good in that area.”
A huge 44-10 over Romania keeps Ireland at the top of Pool D, but Healy was quick to admit that they’re not getting comfortable and that they “feel the pressure” of securing bonus points.
“Going forward we don’t know what’s going to happen and we’re wanting to be the best Ireland that’s possible and having not lost points so far is helping us towards that. We obviously want to be sharp enough going into the games, win them and get the bonus points.
“We can’t really be comfortable – we made a lot of mistakes out there and there’s a few plays that we’ve been working on that we didn’t manage to get through properly so we need to work on the execution of those. There’s farther to go in training.”
It looks as if there’s plenty more for Schmidt’s side to bring to this tournament yet. For Healy, the main thing is sustaining that fitness and physicality whilst trying to avoid more injuries. South Africa’s captain Jean de Villiers, who too made a remarkable recovery in time for the World Cup, has just revealed his retirement from international rugby after being sent home from the tournament with a fractured jaw sustained over the weekend. This shows how vulnerable players who return so soon after injury are – for all their will to put their bodies on the line, the nature of the sport demands a balance between playing hard and being sensible by knowing the means of your capabilities.
There is no doubt, though, that Ireland will be keeping a close eye on the 27 year old as his experience in the front row is second to none. Having earned more than 50 caps for his country, there seems to be no stopping him – a 60 metre kick down field yesterday was good enough to challenge any full-back, and in fact led to a try.
“I get in a bit of trouble for practicing kicks like that on the training field.”
Ireland will now face Italy and France in their final two games in the pool stages, before ideally making it through to the quarter finals and beyond. Both European sides are likely to be more of a contest for Ireland, with Joe Schmidt admitting that next Sunday’s game against Italy is “pivotal”.
“It’s where we can qualify ourselves. The game against France just decides who we play in the quarter-final if we can win next week.
“It’s pressure for us and pressure for Italy. That’s why people come to a World Cup – they want to see how teams respond to the pressure cooker environment.”