Friday 26 May 2017

Healy resurgence gives Schmidt welcome headache for France clash

Cian Healy. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Healy. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It's not that long ago that a serious neck injury left Cian Healy unable to write his own name and contemplating early retirement.

The insurance forms had been filled out and one of the most powerful athletes that this country has ever produced was left wondering what his next step might be.

All the while he has been scrambling to recapture the kind of form that saw him destined to be the Lions starting loosehead in 2013 before an ankle injury ended his tour, Healy has had to watch his provincial team-mate usurp him and carve his own reputation as one of the best props in the world.

Jack McGrath has deservedly been the holder of the No 1 jersey for both Leinster and Ireland over the last couple of years but he won't have thanked Joe Schmidt for leaving him out of the starting XV against Italy last weekend.

Healy's recall could hardly come at a better time as another Lions tour looms.

Now 29, he has plenty of work to do to force his way in and banish the painful memories of four years ago but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Warren Gatland will take him to New Zealand.

The problem Healy faces is that McGrath hasn't put a foot wrong and has plenty of credit in the bank, particularly after his performances in November.

There is little doubt, however, that the gap between the pair has narrowed once again and although McGrath is likely to start against France in two weeks, Healy's powerful display in Rome has certainly given Schmidt something to think about.

"Cian is a handful," Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty says.

"He's very confrontational as a player and as a scrummager. He's difficult to play against. Someone asked me in here a couple of months ago, could he get back to that level, and absolutely was the answer back then. I think he's going very, very well."

Fogarty works closely with both McGrath and Healy every day and he has seen the amount of hours that the latter has put in to hit the levels that he knows he can reach.

"They're different athletes, which is probably the main difference in the players," he says.

"They're both smart players. Cian is a power athlete and you can see that in how he plays the game. That's the key difference. Cian has pushed and put himself back in contention.

"I'm delighted he is back on that stage and playing the way we knew he could."

By his own admission, Healy's confidence suffered last season when his body wouldn't allow him to do what he could do before he suffered a spate of serious ankle, hamstring and neck injuries, but there has been a noticeable improvement this season.

"It took the break at the end of last season to get everything right and to put in some serious hours of skill work, technical work and rehab to iron everything out," Healy explained last week.

Trust in his body has been established and for someone who struggled to complete the most mundane daily tasks less than two years ago, Healy's resilience has paid off.

Now back to full fitness, his next mission is to hand Schmidt a headache of the most welcome kind.

Irish Independent

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