Thursday 18 January 2018

Fit-again Healy sure he can kick on from his lively comeback cameo

Cian Healy shakes hands with Canada's Jamie Cudmore after the game
Cian Healy shakes hands with Canada's Jamie Cudmore after the game
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There's something about a packed Cardiff on a match day. It rarely disappoints and yet again on Saturday it delivered. More importantly, so too did Ireland.

Come the quarter-finals, four major nations will descend upon the Welsh capital and, if last weekend is anything to go by, the decibel levels are sure to be taken to another notch.

The wave of green jerseys began to trickle into the city late on Friday and come Saturday morning the place had been taken over by Irish supporters. Even for Ireland's most experienced players, the atmosphere against Canada was particularly special.

Ireland will return to Cardiff to take on France in the pivotal pool game, by which stage the travelling support will have increased.

"It was amazing," smiled Jamie Heaslip afterwards. "I think that's the loudest I've ever heard Ireland's Call. There was 68,000 (68,523 was the official attendance) there and I'd say 50,000 of them were Irish.

"When I saw Church (Cian Healy) come on to the field, I thought that was a pretty good moment for him. He's had a long road to recovery and the fans were glad to see him getting back out there."

It's been a tough few months for Healy but all the effort he has put in was made worthwhile when he took to the pitch after an hour.

The loosehead prop had been struggling to recover from neck surgery in May as nerve damage threatened to rule him out of the World Cup.

Gruelling

The Irish management gave Healy every chance to make the tournament and looking back on what has been a gruelling period, the relief in his voice was palpable.

"It just meant that I was able to do all the proper rehab, I wasn't under pressure to go out when I wasn't fully fit and hadn't developed the muscle to make a full tackle," Healy said of the coaches' patience with him.

IRELAND TEAM FIXTURES 2018

Date / Time Teams

"It's nice when the staff give you that sort of confidence that you can just tip away at your routine and have your set time in your head for return to play, and this week was it, thank God."

Healy's rate of recovery has always been rapid but, given that his latest setback was due to a nerve problem, the process was slower than usual.

"It was a shock when they said, 'you're going into surgery tomorrow', but there was something there for a while, a bit of nerve damage so it was best looked after," he explained. "You can't play rugby or live with that, you have to have these things looked after.

"Nerve pain is different to everything else; it's constantly at you, burning in the background.

"It's not like a broken arm pain or anything like that, it's just very uncomfortable and for the quality of life you have, you have to have those things fixed up.

"It's always a bit of struggle, not playing for a while and then being on rehab for the whole summer, but I kinda stuck to what the medical people said. That was one of the hardest things. I wanted to kick on and start training and scrummaging and stuff, but I just came back and came back and I was told, 'not yet'. They really looked after me until I had the strength built up in the muscles again to be able to do that."

So what was it like to finally get back out on the pitch?

"It didn't feel great," he admitted. "I was a bit more nervous than I thought I was going to be and it was the final whistle that I was happy about. It was a long road of 24/7 with medics and in and out of rehab the whole time. To get over that first hurdle and have that behind me now is nice."

Healy is likely to start against Romania in Wembley on Sunday as he looks to get more minutes under his belt before the real business of Italy and France roll around.

Jack McGrath has been outstanding in Healy's absence and will take some shifting from the starting XV, but Heaslip knows how vital it is to have him back challenging his Leinster team-mate.

"He's a freak," Heaslip quipped. "He's had a tough road to recovery, but he is back with a bang. I was rooming with him the last two months and he's been pretty giddy to have the opportunity to get out there and it was great to see.

"I was happy it was a scrum that he was coming out to and he made his presence known on that field. That was why we were so keen to get him back, he's a serious presence."

Although he would have liked to have gotten through more work during his 20-minute cameo, Healy isn't concerned by how much ground he has to make up.

"I'm feeling pretty fit. I've done a lot of running over the last while, it's one of the things I've been able to do and they've (medics) certainly exploited that.

"It's not something I'm too worried about, getting back into the flow of it. I've been around long enough to be able to fit in and know what's going on. It's not totally new to me so it's just about doing that."

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