Leo Cullen confident prop idol Healy can recapture former glories
Leinster coach acknowledges injury-prone forward may have to adapt his game
Having rejected the possibility of placing his battered and bruised body at the mercy of the gruelling English Premiership, Cian Healy has been backed by his Leinster coach Leo Cullen to recapture his best form.
Having been eclipsed, through a combination of injury and form, by the outstanding Jack McGrath for club and country, Healy outlined his determination to regain his erstwhile No 1 slot by rejecting a reported big-money move to Worcester.
And, although he has suffered a gamut of serious injury woes, he is still only 28 but there have been fears that nearly nine years of attrition at the highest level, combined with serious knee, neck and hamstring injuries, may have taken their toll.
However, his Leinster boss insists that Healy can bounce back although he hinted that the player, noted for his rambunctious and forceful style of play, may have to adapt as he gets older.
"He can come back stronger, definitely," insists the man who captained Healy during three European triumphs.
"As players get older and you start picking up knocks, it's the self-management that's really important.
"It's understanding how your actual body works as players get into their late 20s early 30s, that's a period there where body management is really important. It's important that guys understand how their bodies work and how to best utilise it."
Healy has always pushed his body to the limit and is proud of his exploits in the gym; he has always confounded medics by constantly trumping their timetables for recovery from all of his serious injuries while his no-nonsense playing style is predicated upon brute physicality.
The progression of time, and the consequent debilitating effects of wear and tear, will force him to tailor his approach, according to Cullen, who himself acquired greater levels of game management and intelligence as his career extended into his late thirties.
"He will definitely have to change his game, how you involve yourself in the game, how you manage yourself into positions on the ball and how you manage your involvements in attack and defence.
"You need to rely on not just the physical part of your game; it's also how you can mentally locate yourself in positions where you can be really, really effective so there's always different parts of players that come through.
"Some players, genetically, are really gifted, so that's their main core strength but they can evolve other parts of their game so they can become tactically more aware."
Healy remains firmly the second-choice Irish pick behind McGrath; the latter is already strengthening his claim to be the first-choice loosehead for next year's Lions tour to New Zealand; if both men are fit when the Six Nations concludes, Cullen may be minded to mimic Joe Schmidt.
For now, Healy's task in his 150th provincial game is to maintain his pre-eminence in Schmidt's thoughts as Munster duo James Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne are also anxiously vying to stake their claims.
Hooker Sean Cronin, too, is another member of the front-row union chomping at the bit; ditched from the bench after round one of the deeply disappointing Six Nations defence as Ireland preferred the stronger scrummaging Richardt Strauss, he is picked to start ahead of the South African today.
"That's the opportunity every week for guys to push themselves forward," says Cullen. "That's how competitive it's got now that we've got international guys away but it doesn't necessarily mean that they're ahead of the guys who are here."
With Mike Ross also in harness as he continues his comeback following Twickenham duty, Cullen is armed with a mean and lean front-row against the Ospreys who, even though they are denied their current internationals, still won with much of this team in Cork against Munster.
In all, there are seven changes in total to the Leinster side that picked up a bonus point away to Zebre.
Fergus McFadden comes in on the right wing to replace Adam Byrne, while captain Isa Nacewa, the league's second highest try scorer behind Matt Healy, continues on the left.
Ben Te'o and Garry Ringrose are once again chosen in the centre for the seventh time as a partnership; the latter will also be hoping to impress the watching Ireland coach.
There is a new half-back pairing; Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh are replaced by Eoin Reddan and Ian Madigan but there should be little disruption as the latter pair were all involved in the previous week's narrow win in Cardiff.
Aside from the completely new front-row, the second-row pushers are unchanged while in the back-row Rhys Ruddock, likely to be involved against Italy, comes in for Ryan at blindside with Dan Leavy and Jordi Murphy retained.
Leinster still have three tough interpros to come but completing the double against their old rivals here should give them plenty of breathing space as they seek to tie down a home semi-final.
Leinster - Z Kirchner; F McFadden, G Ringrose, B Te'o, I Nacewa (capt); I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, R Molony, M Kearney, R Ruddock, D Leavy, J Murphy. Reps: R Strauss, P Dooley, T Furlong, H Triggs, D Ryan, L McGrath, C Marsh, N Reid.
Ospreys - D Evans; J Hassler, J Matavesi, O Watkin, B John; S Davies, R Webb (capt); N Smith, S Parry, D Arhip, T Ardron, R Thornton, J King, O Cracknell, D Baker.
Reps: S Otten, G Thomas, M Fia, A Beard, J Bearman, T Habberfield, J Spratt, T Grabham.
Ref - I Davies (Wales).