Too slow, too attritional.
The opening two rounds of the Six Nations have not made for pleasant watching, and critics have been quick to use them as further evidence in the case against the northern hemisphere’s supposedly Neanderthal approach to the game.
The debate in Ireland has been heightened by the absence through injury of so many key players, not just those who have fallen in the line of duty against Wales and France but also those like Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson who were ruled out long before that.
Cian Healy is another to have been crippled by the curse of injury. Complications arising from neck surgery saw him race back in time for last year’s World Cup and it was knee surgery that delayed his link-up with the Ireland squad until late last week.
“Injuries are injuries,” he said this week. “It is a contact sport, like. People will document them the whole time, but inside the squad, you deal with them and put them to the side. That person rehabs and someone fills in. It doesn’t affect us as much as newspaper readers or whatever.” He has heard the murmurs about the direction the game is taking and admits that the players are bigger and stronger than ever now, the hits harder. The onus on players now to get their tackle technique right these days is greater than ever, he explained.
There will be no lessening in intensity this weekend. Not against England. Not in Twickenham. Healy will likely play his part off the bench as a replacement for Jack McGrath. Chances are he will be entering another meat-grinder and he can hardly wait.
“That’s the type of game I like. I like the big hits and the slow game. If you get a chance you get out and have a run in some open space, but I’m built for that physical contact and I kind of know my strengths at this stage.
“It’s the type of game I would look forward to. They are pretty honest at scrum, same as ourselves, so you are going to have a good fight in there in the tight exchanges. There’s good attritional value in the mauls and rucks as well.”
England will have seen the manner in which France turned the screw on Ireland in Paris at the scrum and Healy talks of the English setpiece with evident respect, but he has prepared for it as best as a training paddock can allow.
Leinster put him and Mike Ross through a number of close to full-on scrummaging sessions when the two props returned from injury. Not just that, but they then forced the two experienced internationals to continue full pelt in training afterwards.
“We were dead on our feet,” said Healy, but it leaves them in a good place.
It’s been a frustrating season for the dynamic loosehead who was clearly short on match fitness and off his best at the World Cup. Seven games with Leinster followed before the knee got him and forced him into another seven weeks on the sideline.
The hope is he has had sufficient time to reacclimatise himself to the demands required thanks to the decision not to parachute him into the squad for Paris last time out and instead arm him with a pair of blowouts against Zebre and Cardiff. He suggested as much himself.
The potential rewards — for himself, Leinster and Ireland — are tantalising. McGrath is unquestionably the form Irish loose head this past year and more, but Healy at his best was a man zeroing in on a starting a spot with the 2013 British and Irish Lions before injury forced him home.
At 28, he still has time to reach those heights again. Ask any prop and they will tell you that there is never a time when they feel 100% fit, but he is as close as can be and determined to squeeze every last minute out of his days from now on.
“I feel good,” he said. “A lot of what I am doing is maintenance work so after training I will always look a bit banged up because I have ice packs on everything and I am resting everything. But the more you pick up bangs like that, the more you learn how to treat them and to treat something before it becomes an issue.
“So (it is) straight off the pitch now for icing or into the hot bath and then the cold bath and recovery is one of the big things for me. At the moment the body feels very good. Running-wise I have got a lot of miles under the belt since I have been back the last few weeks, so I am happy enough.”
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