Cian Healy has been in must-win territory before but knows feeling hurt by last week’s defeat alone cannot get Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations campaign back on track.
The 32-20 defeat to England in Dublin last Saturday was just the second time in almost two years that Ireland have lost but Healy believes last year’s Grand Slam winners cannot take a positive reaction from that defeat for granted when they face Scotland at Murrayfield this afternoon.
The experienced loosehead prop, who will play his 86th Test for Ireland today in Edinburgh, knows everyone outside the squad is expecting an Irish backlash against the Scots this afternoon but that was not necessarily a given.
“You assume nothing,” Healy said. “That’s why people lose games. If you assume it’s going to happen it’s not. You have to work on it and make it happen. Now you’re in a place where you can make that happen and you can go above where you’re normally at.
“Nobody wants demons hanging around for long time like that. The best chance is to get out the following week and exorcise that and put right what we got wrong, nail off the final details and put in a very good performance.”
Healy does acknowledge Ireland do now have their backs against the wall following their poor opening-round performance seven days ago. Such is the condensed nature of the Six Nations that a loss first up means Joe Schmidt’s side are now playing catch-up with last weekend’s victors, England, Scotland and Wales. So though it is just the second round, Ireland are already playing with a knockout mentality.
“We’ve been here before and we’ve come out of it. The way we play, we play everything as a must-win and I think that’s why they can sting a bit more when you lose them. People care about what we’re doing so we go full-out for every game and unfortunately that one last week was a must-win that we lost. So it’s the same attitude. We just need to be sharper in everything.”
England’s fast start and the ease with which they caught the Irish pack napping at the very first lineout, leading to the opening try inside two minutes, may have sounded alarm bells in the camp but Healy is confident it needed just a simple fix.
“We can fix (those errors in defence). We can set earlier and be more prepared for what they’re going to do. That was one of the things we were talking about, that we need to be there and ready for anything that comes at us. Like, that was one of the trick plays if we’re not fully set and in clear minds we could get caught with anything.”
While head coach Schmidt has applied his renowned pressure on the Ireland squad this week, Healy suggested a lot of the preparation this week had been player-driven.
“There’s been a lot of player stuff, a lot of players meeting individually and going over roles and making sure everything is bang on. That’s always happening but I suppose there’s been a little bit of a spike in it now. Lads are hurting a bit and we got all that done at the start of the week and now it’s fine-tuning and there’s more little groups getting together and stuff.
“But there’s still the coaches coming in and weighing in with their tuppence. They’re doing that extra bit of fine-tuning to lead us on the right path so that we can go off together and chat.”
Schmidt was not the only member of the Ireland set-up to experience a couple of sleepless nights in the wake of a first home Six Nations defeat in five years with even a player as experienced as Healy admitting the hurt is as bad now as ever.
“You never get past that. You’re representing a lot of people when you play for Ireland and when you lose that hurts. I’d struggle to sleep after a game, win or lose so I suppose it’s just the thoughts that go through your head a little bit worse when you’re staring at the ceiling.”
He also helped himself to get pain free with a bit of me-time in his garden.
“I cleaned up my shed yesterday. That was about the height of it. I needed a bit of ‘Zen out’ time and cleaned my shed. That was a good hour and a half spent on my own.” But, he added, you cannot dwell for too long.
“No, I have to park it. I’ll get my stuff from it but you hurt from it longer than you think about it. It’s just about building a response to it.
“You can’t lose and not have a response. It’s the making of how we do it, if you get beaten you have to have something that you come back with. You have to have that performance. You have to have that extra few per cent.”