Tuesday 21 January 2020

New scrum laws suit me down to ground – Healy

Ireland loosehead relishing chance to attack rival props as revamped set-piece plays to his strength

David Kelly

David Kelly

Cian Healy is a prop who dreams of playing in the centre – and the new scrummaging laws might bring him a step closer to realising his dream a bit more often.

Only the National Hurling League has had more amendments than the IRB have had scrum law changes – five in 12 years at the last count – but the men in suits may have finally found the solution to one of rugby's biggest blights.

And Leinster loosehead Healy claims that the new rules – or, to be more accurate, the stricter application of many of the old ones – suits his all-action style just fine.

"I'm happy enough with it," he beams. "A big heavy tighthead was always the one I struggled with.

"It is a bit possible for looseheads to do more now. The main thing for tightheads is to hit down the back of a loosehead and keep them down low and stuff.

"But now you are in there, starting off in the sweet spot so it is a chance to go at them. It takes the element of them using their weight out of it. It goes down to a muscle-off, using strength and technique."

As it should be.

This season, the four props must bind fully on each other before pushing, rather than caroming into each other with all the velocity of a crash test dummy which, more often than not, led to the whole pack of cards collapsing.

Repeated collapses of scrums were taking up so much time that TV viewers were not only able to boil the kettle for the cup of tea; sometimes, they might have time to walk to the shops to buy teabags, confident that when the returned there was a good chance they would still be watching the same scrum.

Now, the scrum is not active until the ball is fed by the scrum-half – straight, ye Gods, as was always supposed to be the case but rarely was – and then hooked by the (you guessed it) hooker – as was always the case but etc etc.

POSITIVE

TAKING THE SET-PIECE BACK TO THE FUTURE HAS HAD POSITIVE RESULTS, IT WOULD SEEM, SO FAR THIS CAMPAIGN.

Leinster supporters saw a bemused Frenchman carded for crooked feeding last weekend and, overall, eight-man shoves are diminishing the inordinate focus on the tightheads.

Toulon's former All Black Carl Hayman may be the last of the species for some time who will be able to command a salary of €500,000.

With the referees now instructing "crouch, bind, set", as opposed to the utterly unwieldy "Crouch, touch, pause, engage", the set-piece has developed into more of a wrestling match than anything else.

Even if some referees seem to be taking a sado-masochistic delight in delaying their call to the scrum-half to put the ball in the damn thing.

"Yeah, it's long enough," agrees Healy before adding a mite of mitigation. "But they are looking for stability and that's what the call is there for. You've got to accept that. We push enough weights in the gym to stay in a scrum for a few seconds.

"We're just getting used to it. I know it's a good bit into the season but there are a lot of changes with the scrum calls from refs, time-wise.

"So it's getting used to that too. You train for it but it's never the same as hearing it from a ref, so it's just getting used to the different sequences they're going by.

"It is a big change for everyone. You've got to figure out what way to figure out each player. You always know with one prop that hits down or doesn't bind, but now it is right back to square one for everyone."

Sometimes it helps to go back to the future.

On the other hand, during the recent inter-provincial derby between Munster and Leinster, there was some confusion when Healy won and conceded penalties for what appeared to be similar offences at successive scrums.

"It's a bit hard to support the scrum when that happens," Healy says, a deadpanning face evading any sense on whether he is speaking specifically or generally.

"You have to have the fluidity. But then there is the ref's interpretation as well. We do have to take that into account.

"It is a bit frustrating when there are two different penalties for the same thing but you've got to move on with it. It's always going to happen, things like that. You've got to plug away and move onto the next scrum.

"You're going to have good days and bad days and come across some scrums that suit the new ruling – the aim is to make it suit us. That's going to be our focus, to get those set-pieces right."

And as if that weren't enough, he has Jack McGrath snapping at his heels.

"It's adding the pressure," he says, rejecting the opposing view that it might ease the strain.

"Martin Moore as well, the two of them are lighting a fire under Rossy (Mike Ross) and me and it's going to come to a stage where it doesn't matter about selection. It's one set of us will be starting and one on the bench.

"That's very healthy to have because the pressure comes down and you are constantly looking to improve and constantly under the cosh of what you're doing.

"If you slip up when there is nothing behind you, there is nothing going to come of it. You'll get a talking to and that's it.

"If you slip up when there is someone hot on your heels you are easily gone."

Not very likely given Healy's prowess. Then again, he always has fancied being a centre.

Meanwhile, England will name their captain for their autumn Tests this afternoon, with Chris Robshaw expected to be chosen for the post ahead of Tom Wood.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster is to have individual meetings with both flankers. Robshaw is favourite to reclaim a role he last filled during the Six Nations before being rested for the summer tour to Argentina, allowing Wood to take over. It proved a successful trip for Wood, who was outstanding and received praise for his leadership from Lancaster.

Irish Independent

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