Leaner, meaner and fighting fit, Cian Healy will face the Springboks tomorrow evening not only back to his pre-injury best but aiming to be better again.
The last four years have been blighted by serious injuries to ankle ligaments, a hamstring and the neck as Healy, now 30, has lost ground to Leinster team-mate Jack McGrath in the battle for the Ireland number one jersey.
Yet Healy has stuck to the task of regaining his pre-eminence among Irish loosehead props and, ironically, has made the most of McGrath’s absence, initially on the Lions tour this summer and then a hip injury last week to reposition himself as a Test starter.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt even believes Healy has also stepped up as a leader.
“It has been a bit of a hard slog for him to build himself back into the game because he had been out a long time, he had lost his rhythm for a while but his rhythm is good,” Schmidt said.
“He is positive in the group and he led unbelievably well in Japan. It was probably the first time for me I’d seen Cian have to shoulder a leadership role.”
The summer tour also served to reinvigorate Healy’s passion for training, aligned with a desire to shed some pounds and a role as a “bulldozer” in the front row to being a more dynamic and tenacious player around the pitch.
“I came out of the Japan tour with a positive feeling about where I’m at and how I was playing over the summer break,” Healy said. “I had a real desire to get back into summer training which I wouldn’t say I’ve had for quite a time. You’re usually ready for your holidays and ready to kick the feet up.
“It’s probably the first summer in a long time where I’ve wanted to train, keep on top of it, stay fit and look after myself.” Healy described being selected for tomorrow’s showdown with a mighty Springbok pack as “a bit of positive reinforcement” from Schmidt.
“I’ve been putting a lot of work in outside, training and at home, when I’m on my own and stuff. That can go unnoticed but when getting picked comes around, it’s a good little nudge to say you’re doing the right thing and the hours and stuff are worth it.
“Looking after the body and nutrition is key. I wouldn’t do so much strength work, it is about a lot of flexibility and pilates stuff at home. General wellbeing. It was never stuff I had to worry about or anything. But then this summer I decided to take a bit of my weight off, lean up again, become fast again and not worry about being a bit of a bulldozer.”
Healy has dropped from 125 kilos at the 2015 World Cup to a new fighting weight of 115kg, which he is “pretty happy with”.
He explained:“I just got rid of the shit weight. There is no belly weight or anything like that. I’m probably the leanest I have been since, Jesus, I don’t know, 2008 or so. I’m feeling good. I don’t feel like I have any excess weight.
“They (the Irish management) have all been pretty good over the years to let me mess around and see what works. We used to say at the start that we wanted me heavy because it was the easiest way to get the scrum going forward and stuff.
“I did that and messed around with it. They were on board with everything so when I said to the lads at the end of last year, ‘I’m going to shift a bit of weight here.’ I rented a cross trainer for the house for the summer. Just morning fitness. It’s not too taxing on the body. The joints don’t take a bang or anything like that. If it’s not going to affect my muscles or joints badly, then they are all for it.
“Now I’ve gotten this freshness about myself, I’ve lifted the fitness and dropped the weight. It’s a balancing act.”
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