Cian Healy isn’t one for cracking under questioning.
Yesterday afternoon saw him seated in the basement of an office block in Dublin’s city centre faced by a dozen or so journalists, most of whom wanted to talk about the Lions first, last and at all points in between.
Healy didn’t. Not with Leinster facing Ulster in the PRO12 final at the RDS this Saturday hoping to complete a European/league double while erasing the memories of recent ‘domestic’ decider defeats.
The prodding came from all angles — the mobile cryotherapy chamber parked out in Carton House, the prospect of visiting Hong Kong, Australia’s reputation for sledging — but none of it came close to eliciting anything like real engagement.
Not even a theory which was given some credence by Dan Lydiate the day before, that those training under Warren Gatland’s watchful eye in Kildare this week hold an advantage over those missing, could spark a reaction.
“You think about all that when you get there. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t pay my full attention to Leinster and try to get our hands on another cup. If I had my mind on something that’s not there yet, it wouldn’t be right.
“They have an advantage but they’re at a disadvantage of not being in another final. You can look at it from any way. We’ve a final for Leinster, we’re paying that a lot of respect. When we get into the Lions we will be complete professionals [too].”
This is the sportsman’s equivalent of revealing nothing more than name, rank and serial number when captured in wartime, but the 25-year-old volunteers a tad more when the questions zero in on Leinster.
Yet even here he is dismissive of prefabricated angles and subplots. Tame, unthreatening entreaties designed to inspire headlines about sending Schmidt, Sexton or Nacewa off with a bang are given short thrift.
So too, a query on Ulster’s lauded front row and another on what it would be like to lose to their northern neighbours for the third time in a row this season just 12 months on from comprehensively outplaying them at Twickenham.
He answers them all like we just don’t get it: it’s not about Ulster or anyone else, it is about Leinster and ensuring a run of three defeats in the last four Celtic League finals doesn’t expand into one of four from five.
“Leinster to lose this final would be devastating because we’ve lost them before,” he insists, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of the Specsavers hoodie he is wearing to promote the company’s ‘Unbreakable Friendship’ initiative.
“It doesn’t matter what the opposition is, losing a final is terrible and something we don’t want to do. We’ve been working hard on our moves, where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do, to ensure we don’t make that happen again.”
The vibes in camp have been good.
Last Friday’s Amlin Challenge Cup success was celebrated but in a curtailed manner, training has been crisp and team meetings focused, even if Healy can’t be sure who he will be packing down opposite just yet.
The word from Belfast earlier this week was that John Afoa’s hamstring would reduce him to a role off the bench. That would leave the onus on Ricky Lutton whose first start for Ulster came in the defeat of Leinster in Dublin early last month.
Lutton’s dramatic elevation to top-class provincial rugby from the ranks of the AIL has been one of the more unusual and elevating stories of the season but Healy wasn’t as taken aback as the rest of us by the quantum leap.
“He did well. He’s had a strong season, he’s scrummaging well. It’s not something you should be shocked at. If a fella is brought in, he’s been brought in for a reason. They’re not going to be bringing in someone who can’t hold up a scrum. They’ve sourced a good player, they have him in to do a job and he’s doing a good one.
“It’s happened with a lot of people. You see Leo Au’va getting called in [by Leinster] from Old Belvedere. There’s always a chance because coaches are always looking for players to come in and do a job. We do our homework on all their props and whichever one gets selected — and if I get selected — I’ll be ready for it.”
You can bet on that.
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