Saturday 24 February 2018

Healy's brute force reminds RDS faithful of what they were missing

Leinster's Jamie Heaslip muscles his way past Ospreys' Jeff Hassler
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip muscles his way past Ospreys' Jeff Hassler
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THE feeling abounds that of all of the Irish provinces, it is Leinster who are best prepared for a quarter-final in the south of France, even if doing it without the newly- signed Sean O'Brien makes life all the more difficult.

That slip against Northampton at Lansdowne Road and a general inability to pick up winning bonus points is likely to see them meet Clermont Auvergne or Toulouse away in April and the Tullow native is highly unlikely to be back in time.

Winning ugly has become the name of the game under Matt O'Connor who has struggled to get his backline to click.

And, when those men in the high numbered jerseys are unable to get over the line, so often the province turned its lonely eyes to O'Brien.

Well, on a strange night at the RDS, where the hosts booked their place in the Heineken Cup last eight, this was a reminder that the three-time European champions are far from a one-man team. There's at least two of them at it.

Sure, Leinster have good players across the park, but at the minute they're just not clicking behind the scrum, so they needed some brute force and Cian Healy stepped forward with a timely reminder of what he's all about.


Amid the panic over the futures of O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, the Clontarf prop slipped back into the team after his telling impact off the bench in Castres last Sunday. Last night he got 50 minutes of abrasive action under his belt to underline his importance to province and country at just the right time with the Six Nations looming.

With players' values the subject of open discussion up and down the country, with the French clubs constantly circling, there was little doubting who Leinster's MVP was here.

When he first suffered his ankle injury back in December it looked like the loosehead might miss the Six Nations and, last night, he went down holding his right shoulder after an attempted tackle on Jonathan Spratt.

As the rest of the stadium watched on, while referee Romain Poite reviewed the replays of the stamping incident that resulted in Wales lock Ian Evans' red card, the Ireland coaching staff would have fixed their eyes on Healy.

The relief must have been palpable when he picked himself up and carried on, destroying Wales and Lions tighthead Adam Jones as he went.

As Leinster struggled for inspiration behind the scrum, it was once again up to the forwards to generate momentum and the 26-year-old was at the vanguard.

Against 14 men, they huffed and puffed but it was the scrum that gave the platform and the line-out maul that eventually broke the Ospreys' resistance through a penalty try from a line-out maul, but when they needed a killer blow before half-time it was Healy whose carry forced them over the line.

As for the sending off, there is a school of thought that says if you find yourself at the bottom of a maul you are fair game for a good shoeing.

However, although Mike McCarthy got caught at the bottom and would have accepted a few rakes as part of the job, Ian Evans and a few of his mates went dangerously close to the head and Poite -- having reviewed the incident over and over -- reached for the red. Warren Gatland will be sweating over the referee's report with Evans due to report for Wales duty next week.

That they huffed and puffed for 10 minutes after that decision said much for Ospreys' sheer bloody-mindedness, but it also spoke volumes about Leinster's struggles to get their attacking game going with any degree of fluidity.

The visitors were being forced to play Dan Biggar in the centre, lost Ryan Jones before the break and then -- having taken off Lions hooker Richard Hibbard at half-time -- were forced to play with three props in the front row after his replacement Scott Baldwin went off with an injury less than 10 minutes after half-time.

A mix-up between Dave Kearney and Shane Jennings summed up their frustrations, however, with the duo somehow contriving not to collect and fall over the line from Zane Kirchner's off-load.

Even with Ian Madigan outside Jimmy Gopperth they couldn't make their dominance count as opportunities came and went.

Again, it was up to the pack to take over and against the makeshift Ospreys pack they forced Poite under the posts for the second time of the night.

Richardt Strauss brought a Hollywood storyline to a distinctly C-list night when he came made his return ahead of schedule, while more direct play from Jordi Murphy secured the bonus point.

With the job done, the backs finally got in on the act in the closing stages as Isaac Boss went over thanks to a Heaslip break.

It was a rare glimpse of beauty, out of character with the night, but they're through and it will be long forgotten in April.

Irish Independent

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