Monday 18 December 2017

Healy's continuing quality making him difficult for Schmidt to ignore

Connacht flyer's quality cannot be ignored

Healy: Impressive run of form. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Healy: Impressive run of form. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Up until now, the considered response to the growing clamour for Matt Healy's international inclusion has been to point out what the Connacht flyer cannot do. After his virtuoso performance in Grenoble, the focus for Joe Schmidt must now be firmly on what he can.

By his own admission, the 27-year-old was not flawless at the Stade des Alpes where he made just his second appearance at full-back in a career that has taken time to hit these heights.

As Bernard Jackman recalled, the winger was a star on the DCU Force side he coached back in inter-varsity competition as recently as 2012.

Four years later, he is being described by his former mentor as a "viable candidate" for Ireland selection.

In France, Healy was electric with ball in hand; creating three tries with his running angles and speed, while also burning Springbok Gio Aplon to cross for his own score.

It was a devastating return for a player who only ran with the ball six times over the course of the 80 minutes and, while he has work to do under the high ball, there has to be room in the national team for a player of such unique attacking gifts.

Healy got some belated recognition from Schmidt at the tail end of the Six Nations when he trained with the Ireland squad at Carton House on the last day in Kildare before the campaign concluded. He has previously been part of the Emerging Ireland squads and is on the radar.

The Ireland coach famously demands certain things from his wingers and Healy does not appear to tick the boxes of a Schmidt-style wide-man, yet Ireland's attacking plan appeared to shift as the Six Nations progressed and the capacity of the ex-Lansdowne wing to find holes in opposition lines must surely be worth trying out at the highest level.

A student of Super Rugby, the New Zealander will have watched the emergence of the Chiefs' Damian McKenzie this season. Despite being just 5ft 7ins and 12 stone 7lbs, the 20-year-old full-back has been the outstanding player in this year's tournament and is likely to see All Black action before long.

McKenzie is a special talent, but his ability to thrive in the land of giants shows that size doesn't always matter. Healy doesn't have the physical stats of his Ireland rivals, but he Guinness Pro12's top try-scorer possesses attacking threats that few other Irish players possess.

"It was really enjoyable," Healy said of his brief involvement with Ireland.

"It gives me confidence that I might be doing things right. But I know certainly from that performance against Grenoble I am going to have to lift it in the next few weeks. There are definitely a few work-ons. So if I am called on again I am going to have to address that. I was in there for a night and a training session. It was just all about preparing those guys for the Scotland game. Joe and I had a brief chat leaving on the Thursday but nothing since.

"There are definitely a few things that I need to work on. Consistency being one, I said that from day one. I need to brush up on a few things. Hopefully if I address them and perform consistently, performing consistently well, hopefully that call comes."

Saturday's meeting with Munster opens up another opportunity to put himself in the shop window.

"We try and play an expansive game, and we try heads-up rugby," Healy said. "That's exactly how we played against Grenoble, we just coughed the ball up in certain areas. We are going to have to tighten up on that, and they are things we are going to have to work on this week.

"We are holding our heads high after losing, but feeling it in the belly. That will definitely drive us into this week for Munster."

Irish Independent

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