Time for Healy to shine
October 20, 2009
Cian Healy has been in fine form for Leinster © Getty Images
Twenty minutes after their clinical 36-13 dismantling of Brive in the south west of France, Leinster coach Michael Cheika emerged to give his thoughts on a victory which had put the Heineken Cup champions' retention campaign back on the rails.
After expressing his satisfaction with the marked improvement in set-piece and breakdown play since their opening defeat at home to London Irish, the Australian was asked to comment on the performance of his young loose-head prop Cian Healy.
"He's just learning every day a little bit more. I still think there's lots of improvement (to come) in him, like around the field; it's just getting to know things," said Cheika. "But obviously given his age and where he's coming from we're really happy with his progress. He's sort of been the constant now with a few different partners. He's had Mike (Ross), Stan (Wright) and now CJ (van der Linde) has come in so he's proving himself as one of the young guys who are starting to come up."
While Van der Linde's injury problems were never part of the script for Leinster, they have proved hugely beneficial for Irish rugby this year as Cheika was able to switch Stan Wright over to the tight-head side and give Healy (who turned 22 earlier this month) his head in the No.1 jersey.
His name may not be that well-known outside of Ireland, but Healy's performances have been of such a standard that to hear Cheika (who has brought him through since he first joined Leinster's Academy) intimate that there is plenty more to come is hugely exciting proposition for Irish rugby in a position where the national team has struggled for depth.
On last summer's British & Irish Lions tour, the Grand Slam champions had representatives at hooker, second-row, back-row, half-back, centre, wing and fullback in the original party for South Africa which left props Marcus Horan and John Hayes (called up as a replacement) the glaring omissions.
However, the word in the lifts and corridors of the Lions hotel in Johannesburg during the first week of the tour was that Healy had come very close to selection in spite of his youth and lack of exposure to international rugby.
Barring injury, Healy will win his first cap for Ireland next month and not as part of head coach Declan Kidney's 2011 World Cup development plan but as the country's form loose-head.
Marcus Horan had an excellent campaign during Ireland's run to the Grand Slam last season and, well aware of the pressure being put on by his Leinster rival, has been performing well in Munster's mixed start to the season - until forced off with dizziness in a difficult start against Treviso last weekend.
But if Horan has been good, Healy has been phenomenal. Against Brive, Leinster won four penalties at scrum-time as well as winning one against the head with Healy tormenting his opposite number Pat Barnard.
But his game is not just about scrummaging power. Against Munster at the RDS a couple of weeks previously, he put in hit after hit, the pick of his tackles being the one that drove back Denis Leamy and turned over possession just after half-time - the moment that killed off any lingering thoughts of victory the visitors may have harboured.
That was the evening his head came into contact with the boot of John Hayes but, despite the blood cascading down his face, Healy barely paused to get cleaned up before getting stuck in again. Job done, he left to a standing ovation from Leinster fans who regularly chant his name, before returning again when Wright was forced off injured a few minutes later.
Tales of his prowess in the weights room date back to his school days in Belvedere but for a man packing so much raw power and nearly 18 stones, Healy possesses a surprising turn of pace also and a couple of his Magners League tries have gained cult status on youtube among Leinster supporters.
One shows him flying down the touchline against Glasgow before flummoxing the cover defence with an in-out swerve for a touch-down in the corner while the second against Ulster saw Healy leave Grand Slam centre Paddy Wallace flat footed on his way to the line.
Props tend to peak in their early 30s and Healy's rapid progression and stated scope for improvement means Ireland could have a regular at loose-head for the next 10 years at least. He continually credits ex-Leinster and South Africa prop Ollie le Roux with teaching him the intricacies of loose-head play.
"It was brilliant training with Ollie. He'd straight up tell you when you're doing something wrong, and say 'maybe if you tried to move your foot that way, it might work better'," says Healy.
Now the apprentice has become the master and though Cian Healy remains unheralded on a global stage for the time being - that should all change when Australia's put-upon scrum comes to Croke Park in a few weeks' time.