Through much of Ireland’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, there was plenty of emotion on the pitch, but a lack of emotion off it.
When results went against the team, the focus was on ‘the process’, while there were only ‘fine margins’ to blame; no fall guys, no names named.
When those small mistakes combined to leave Ireland facing a final-day showdown against a Grand Slam-chasing England team, skipper Rory Best argued in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium that Ireland were a consistent team.
OK the results might not say that, he seemed to argue, but the performances are consistent.
So, it was a breath of ice-cold air when Cian Healy yesterday announced that the team were still gutted after their second-placed finish.
“We finished on a positive and we’ve to be happy with that, but we’re not a team that settles on something like that,” he said.
“Though we were very happy with the win [v England] in the end, it was still burning inside us that we hadn’t won the whole thing.”
Finishing second was frustrating, but defeat to England could have seen Ireland drop to fifth in the final championship table.
“You have to be happy with taking the best from a situation you can,” Healy said. “Second is better than fifth, but we’d like to be in a better position come the last game in the next one.
“Overall it was an up and down championship. We lost two so that’s a bit annoying and there’s a lot to be worked on.”
One online report labelled the team ‘heroes’ after last weekend’s dramatic win over England, causing some observers to claim the rugby team are given an easier ride than the nation’s soccer team.
Healy had no opinions on that, but argued that there was no shortage of critical self-analysis within the confines of the squad itself.
“We put pressure on ourselves inside, and I don’t think anything outside could match the pressure or intensity that goes through our reviews and how we pick apart our games in preparation,” he said.
“That’s done to the highest standards, so it just comes down to on the day of the game then, if you win or lose and the performance is right.”
Healy had an extra helping of frustration during this year’s Six Nations, playing just 139 minutes across the five tests, as back-up to Leinster clubmate Jack McGrath.
The loosehead prop has started in just six of his last 20 tests, and his only starts since the 2015 Rugby World Cup came against Canada and Italy.
“I was happy with some things, but I could have done with some more time, more mileage through the legs,” he said.
“But you take what you get and do the best you can. I’d hoped I’d have more time, but you put the best foot forward and rely on the best team to be picked and don’t argue. That’s the way it is.”
Coming off the bench just before the hour mark has become an unwelcome routine, but as his fitness creeps towards the level he was at before neck and knee injuries took hold, fighting for primary ownership of the No 1 shirt is not far away.
“I think we’re close enough,” Healy said of his battle with McGrath. “We work well in training, we tag in and out, we’re kinda on the same system, but I don’t make the selection decisions, I just have to keep my head down as best I can.
“I am still getting back there, certainly I’m not at the level I want to be. You have to get as much of a run of games as you can, take every opportunity to get 60-70 minutes under the belt.
“I got a few at the start of the season that I was happy with. It continues now with rehab, skill work, everything, keep trying to push that on. Hopefully, I will push myself forward this week and get some game time and be in a good position next week against Wasps.”
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