The Irish squad have set up base in New Jersey with eight players hoping to make their international debuts and a few others on red alert for a call from New Zealand and elevation to the Lions squad.
Cian Healy, the most experienced player in this touring party, with 67 caps, could be one of the first summoned to New Zealand, but the 29-year old is not letting any of that interfere with the job he is tasked with this week. Aside from the eight rookies, another 15 of the party, including Ulster’s Sean Reidy who will link up with them next week in Japan, have single-figure appearances for Ireland.
Healy, by his own admission, not the most vocal in the team room, is very much the elder lemon in a squad where only Keith Earls (59), Devin Toner (47), Simon Zebo (33) and Paddy Jackson (23) have made more than 20 appearances.
“I’m not much of a meeting room talker. I try to drag lads along to do extras, to do scrum stuff would be my different way of doing it. I don’t like to chime up too much in meetings.”
His biggest battle, having lost the Leinster No 1 shirt to Jack McGrath, has been getting game-time and his earlier than expected introduction in the PRO12 semi-final loss to Scarlets was the first time he has clocked 70 minutes on the field in four years. Healy is just craving some quality time on the pitch. His first priority is to lead by example as an inexperienced Irish side prepare to extend their winning sequence over the USA Eagles to nine games at the Red Bull Arena on Saturday night, before heading to Japan for two Tests.
Having started in just two of nine Irish appearances this season and 11 for Leinster, Healy said he knew there was little chance of being selected for the Lions. You can’t expect to go on a tour like that when you are on the bench. You can be hopeful. There is a 25% chance, or whatever game-time the sub prop gets. It is at the back of your head, but I was just focused on playing rugby. I hadn’t been focused on pushing ahead of Jack, it was just about playing as well as possible, about getting to a level where I am happy with what I am doing.”
Meanwhile, Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby believes that having Ronan O’Gara as part of the coaching team this week in the USA is a huge positive. He reckons that O’Gara will also benefit from being part of the Irish management as they prepare for Saturday’s clash.
O’Gara will depart after Saturday’s game, with Girvan Dempsey coming on board for the first Test in Japan and he, in turn, will be replaced by Felix Jones for the third match of the tour. Easterby said that having his former Irish teammate involved is beneficial, especially with such an inexperienced squad.
“He’s been great. What he has is that experience; what he can offer the likes of Joey Carbery, for example. Rog has taken himself from the support network of Munster and gone and exposed himself to something very different and he’s thriving [in Paris]. It’s great to have him in and around the camp. He’s supporting what Richie [Murphy] is doing with the backs and the kicking, and just little bits of advice here and there are crucial. He has more of a watching role than anything, but Rog being Rog, he has a lot to offer. He is asking questions.”
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