Sunday 26 February 2017

'Chasing a win can't change the game plan'- Cian Healy preaches focus in tough times

Tom Rooney

Cian Healy
Cian Healy

Ireland’s humiliating loss to Italy in 2013 is seared into Cian Healy’s memory but, apart from lessons long-since learned from that dreadful Roman afternoon, the prop sees no correlation between then and Saturday’s clash with the Azzuri at the Aviva Stadium.

Those with a suspicious leaning might quarrel with the hulking front row on that particular matter, though most likely from a safe distance.

Declan Kidney’s tenure truly unravelled in a campaign that saw Ireland arrive at the Stadio Olimpico on the back of a win, two losses and draw. Of course a raft of injuries - which saw Peter O’Mahony on the wing - and yellow cards, facilitated Italy in recording a first win over Ireland since 1997.

The former Munster coach never took charge of an Ireland team again and Joe Schmidt duly took up the post.

Three years on, and the Italians will arrive in Dublin to face an Ireland team also at the consensus nadir of the incumbent coach’s time at the helm but, unlike 2013, both sides are winless in the campaign to date.

When asked to recall his memories of that day, Healy gave a typically terse response but instead emphasised the importance of not acting rashly in search of that elusive victory and maintaining the goal of ensuring that the Aviva Stadium becomes a bugbear for travelling sides.

“There’s a lot of defeats that would etch away at my head but I try to leave as many of them as I can behind,” Healy said at Carton House.

“Those sorts of things happen and you have to learn from them. We didn’t show up and they did and, you know, they put together some good football, so you can’t put it completely down to ourselves.

“It would be a big thing not having a win, but it’s not going to change our game plan. We’re very confident in what we do and how we train and how it’s all put together. It’s been a good week of that and we’re just working on the latter stages of our phases and keeping them as strong as possible.

“We’ve got a lot of pride in what we do and don’t want to be losing to anyone in Dublin. It’s something we’ve  tried to build on in the last couple of years, to make home for us a very hard place for people to come to.”

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Although Italy's game is incrementally evolving, there’s no secret as to what Ireland will encounter on Saturday; a compact, physical assault, complemented by the occasional bout of brinksmanship.

Martin Castrogiovanni, the one time chief instigator of the Italian pack, is suspended, while powerful hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini is fighting to be fit, but Healy reckons the collective bedrock now in place means their absences will not be as acutely felt as times gone by.

“It seems a big loss but, at the same time, they have people to fill in there who are just as dangerous. There was a time when he (Castrogiovanni) was the main man there but I think they’ve built a serious unit there that people can slot in and out of, and remain just as dangerous a pack.

“We always expect a lot of hard scrums and a hard battle, and we don’t look too much past that. You see a small few differences but at the end of the day, it’s a front up battle for us.”

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