| 17.8°C Dublin

Healy's leading from front

Close

Cian Healy. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Cian Healy. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Cian Healy. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

RUGBY is a sport that makes great and varied demands on men in jerseys one to 15.

It could well be argued that it takes a real 'freak' to be franked as the best in the business all the way along the body sizes from Ireland's Cian Healy to Australia's Israel Folau.

That which drives and separates these super-athletes, fuelled by ambition and blessed with superior physical and mental tools, can amount to a sum of reasons and the open door of opportunity.

Healy started out as an athlete at Belvedere College with an unusual appetite to better his body as All-Ireland discus, javelin and shot-put champion and Ireland Schools loosehead prop.

He took extreme measures to stand out from the crowd, like the time he roamed St Anne's Park in Raheny with a deadly weapon.

"It is probably highly illegal, throwing a spear in a public park. Ah, yeah, I used to do that. I would find an empty pitch and go at it," he said.

"That was more so for building up the shoulders, powering up different angles of the shoulders. It was actually after I finished competing in the javelin."

In a Leinster programme of quick-fire questions and answers earlier this season, Healy was asked what he would be if he wasn't a professional rugby player.

"An Olympian," he replied.

Which would he have dedicated all his energy to for the Olympics?

"It probably would have been the shot-put. It is something I would have liked to take a shot at. I didn't do a hell of a lot of training for it to become Irish champion," he said.

Wasn't that what Victor Costello did at the 1992, the Olympics in Barcelona?

"Yeah, but he was a freak."

There it is again, that word that brings into the mind's eye a superhuman being, operating at a higher order, working in a tight space where intimidation and aggression are all basic job requirements.

There is an air of anger and aura of menace about this freak of nature. Healy simply feels it is a necessity for him in what is the closest thing to combat team sport.

"It is just something that you have to be in that position. If I'm perceived as an angry, aggressive, effective person by another team, there is a level of them having to watch me," he said.

"I figure it is an important thing to have. It is about how aggressive you can get and how hard you can be within the laws of the game. I just take that to its extreme. You have to in the front row."

The Clontarf man never paid too much heed to those who questioned his scrummaging when he started out as a young pup in a club environment that pitched him in at the deep end of the game.

INHUMANE

"I had to go up against Will Green, Ollie le Roux, Stan Wright when I started out against these absolutely inhumane people who are killing you at training. It draws a performance out of you. You have to learn quickly, improve quickly. You have to deal with it. Or else."

The Leinster scrum culture is growing. Tightheads Mike Ross, Martin Moore and Tadhg Furlong have to deal with looseheads Healy, Jack McGrath and Edward Byrne with Ireland U20 Peter Dooley a growing force too.

"Yeah, it is coming full circle. Marty (Moore) has been coming up against me for the last two years. That draws something out of him," said Healy.

"Our scrummaging sessions are no-holds-barred whether you are a seasoned veteran or coming in out of the Academy. You go with what you've got."

So, you tear each other to pieces and have a laugh about it afterwards?

"Pretty much, yeah."

Are you the best loosehead in the world? Or, are there others you look at as the benchmark?

"I am at a decent level. I am where I need to be. I was first perceived as being a brutal scrummager. But, like, I was young. I was learning. It was only a handful of times where I got it handed to me, went backwards.

"My opinion when I was younger was that it didn't matter what I looked like as long as I was going forward. I could be bent into a U shape and still walk forward. Now, it is about polishing it up and trying to keep as stable as I can."

And the new rules for work practices have added to Healy's arsenal in direct contrast to the way it has stolen from the bank of large, experienced tightheads, even at international rugby.

"It has really changed," he said.

France tighthead Nicolas Mas is one previously feared scrummager who has been forthright about how he has suffered with the change in law. The hit and chase is gone. Pure scrummaging is back in fashion.

"He would pretty much throw his weight at the back of your head and go: 'deal with that'. That was impossible. All the heavier lads I struggled with in the beginning. I had to try and figure a way out of that hole.

"With the new laws, I am not finding anyone too tough when I have my head right."

Not even Carl Hayman from Toulon? "He didn't try any trickery. He just wanted a straight-forward push-off. I find there is a level of respect for someone who does that because he was backing himself to go one-on-one.

"You're part of a unit that moves forward. But, if it is a straight forward thing, there is that level of one-on-one to see how it goes. Both of us were giving each other the odd pat on the back after a scrum.

"It happens with some of them. Adam Jones would be the same. I would often have a laugh with him, even during a game. There's a work respect there."

It cuts both ways.


Privacy