Cian Healy: 'We're loving the energy and how we're playing'
Ireland prop says high standards in training have raised bar and made the Leinster set-piece one to be reckoned with
There are a number of rumours doing the rounds at present in and around the Leinster Rugby environment and one of the juicier ones concerns the ability of young UCD prop Andrew Porter to lift serious metal. Or, to be more precise, to eclipse the fabled numbers posted by one Cian Healy.
The Leinster and Ireland loosehead prop laughs at the suggestion. But doesn't deny it either!
"He's a good operator alright, Porter. I'm not lifting those weights any more so I guess I'll just have to have a look at some of the numbers in the off-season and maybe see if we can set the record straight!" Healy says.
Porter was once a loosehead prop like Healy but he has now shifted to the other side of the scrum so Healy is well positioned to analyse the strength of the 21-year-old as he squares up to him in the live scrummaging sessions in the Leinster training base in UCD.
"A move like that will always take time to settle but we've seen the last few weeks that he is getting the hang of it now and he is becoming a really competitive operator. It's like all things. You scrum against some of the senior lads, you have a good day at the office and it just adds fuel to the fire. But you want more and more of it. And that's what's happening with Porter at the moment. With all of them actually."
The 'them' he is referring to is the conveyor belt of prop talent simmering away behind the scenes at Leinster Rugby at present.
"Credit to the system and the talent identification that goes on at grassroots level. Whether that be in club or school but there has been a steady flow of lads coming through and it is great to see. They are all driving the standards and driving the competition and that is giving Fogs (John Fogarty) and the other coaches dilemmas every weekend."
That competition and the drive within the team is evident in the scrum stats that are following this Leinster team in the Guinness PRO12 and in the Champions Cup.
The OPTA stats tell us that Leinster have lost only three scrums in all games this season. That's 19 PRO12 games and seven in Europe. That's over 2,080 minutes of rugby.
"We have a mindset in training when we go about our scrums; that you train harder than you will get in a game. And I think we achieve that and we have shown this season against some of the best scrums and the best teams that we can have an attack mindset to our scrums which is something that maybe we wouldn't be known for in the past. Every scrum is an opportunity, not just on our ball."
But it hasn't always been like that for this group of forwards or indeed their scrum coach Fogarty.
Flash back to Round 2 of the Champions Cup last season away to Bath in the Rec and a particularly low point for the scrum. When all else was going well, the scrum creaked.
Post-mortems and meetings amongst themselves followed and what you now have just over 12 months later is a unit transformed.
"I think the way we have been going about our scrum is actually long overdue because I think we have always had that talent here but we were never really an attacking scrum. But I think over the last season or so we have started to look at that and started to evolve to the point now where I really think that you would be hard pushed to find a higher standard than the standard we are setting in training. Plus we are all loving it. Loving the competition, loving the energy and loving how we are playing."
That playing style has brought record try numbers and the supporters are flocking to see this current crop in action too with the 50,000-plus at the Aviva Stadium the most recent example.
"I just think what Leo, Stu, Girv and Fogs have done in the last year and the way they have moved us on as a team and the training that we are now doing, it's a pleasure to be involved with.
"It's hard and they push us but when you see the results and the way that we are trying to play the game, what's not to get excited about?"
Over the next few weeks the 29-year-old with 67 Ireland caps to his name will again become one of the key men as Leinster embark on a run-in that could end up with silverware.
He has played a key part in some of those iconic moments in the past but his elder statesman role catches him out at times.
"We were only talking about this last week and about the advice maybe that we could pass on and I was thinking sure there's not much advice that you could give because you just think looking at them and the way they play, that they have these medals already. That they've been to the summit before.
"But for the likes of Josh or Dan Leavy or Tadhg Furlong or Garry or Robbie, like these lads it was their first taste of knockout European rugby. So you do forget that they weren't there back then. But I think what's great is they now have that experience - albeit only one game - but experience that they know that they belong at that level and that they can thrive at that level and I think that will only spur them on over the coming weeks."
The temptation to talk Clermont and semi-finals in Lyon is there but there is the small matter of a trip out west to the defending PRO12 champions to contend with first.
There is also the celebration of a unique milestone in Irish rugby when John Muldoon wins his 300th Connacht cap. Gordon D'Arcy on 261 is the nearest Leinster challenger, while Mike McCarthy celebrated a career 300 last season against Toulon but 300 for one club is truly remarkable in the professional era.
"I would know him well enough through various Irish camps over the years but obviously faced him more often than not in the inter-pros. He plays with a fierce determination and he's one of those lads you'd rather on your team than not.
"He wears his heart on his sleeve and is so dedicated to the Connacht cause - 300 games for one club is remarkable and I know that the rest of the Connacht lads and the Connacht public will be doing everything they can to ensure he gets a huge performance from all of them on his big day. Just like we would if he was one of ours.
"We've got to rise above that emotion though and everything else surrounding the game like the PRO12 Final last year and just make sure that we are doing our basics right and stick to the game-plan. It's a very difficult place to go if that starts to unravel."