Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

RBS 6 Nations: Ireland will drive harder for the win, says Cian Healy

Cian Healy and Iain Henderson arrive for training yesterday ahead of tomorrow's Six Nations clash with Italy

With Ireland captain Paul O'Connell and coach Joe Schmidt loud in their praise of Ulster's Iain Henderson who will pack down on the blindside of the back row for tomorrow's Six Nations set-to with Italy, Cian Healy joined in the chorus of accolades.

Asked what the young Ulster protege brings to the party Leinster's British and Irish Lions loose-head prop focused on Henderson's physique and athleticism.

"From playing him, you'd notice his running skills," Healy said. "It's not until you're actually standing beside him that you notice how big a fellah he is.

"He's a powerful runner and he's not slow either, he has a lot of poke. All that and a bit of experience now, he's the makings of a really, really good player."

Last season at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Ireland lost to the Italians for the first time in a Six Nations encounter. But things have changed since last March's low point in the Eternal City where defeat in what was the last game of the 2013 championship condemned Ireland to a second-bottom finish.

Explaining the improvement, Healy said: "I'm not surprised because last year it was all one score games and short stuff. We knew we were close to having something clicking and being in that right place.

"The focus to detail and everything that has been brought in has given us the extra nudge that we needed."

And he admitted that Ireland are smarting after losing to England at Twickenham, an outcome which put paid to Triple Crown and Grand Slam hopes.

"We were pretty annoyed about the last game in Twickenham," Healy said. "We slipped off the detail and we weren't on it in defence. That's what we've been priding ourselves on."

Referring to the effort which has gone into everyone knowing their roles to a point whereby that is second nature, he explained: "Being so clear and not having to think about anything because we're so well-drilled. So I'm not really surprised that we're in this position because we've put so much work into it."

Invited to expand on what exactly this entails, he added: "You don't want to be running to a line-out and hearing a call and then having to stop and think. It should be known already and then you snap off it and away you go.

"It makes the game much easier to play, not to have to think about things. So you can get to a breakdown or instead get around the corner, you can think on your feet and you're not thinking about moves. So that's a big part about knowing our role now."

With the Italian scrum being one of the strongest around, Ireland have been working on that set-piece. Earlier in the week, tight-head prop Mike Ross had said Tuesday's scrum session was the hardest he had been through.

"It was just a tough session," Healy agreed. "Pressure from the lads aside, everyone was going all out at one another. I don't count the number of scrums in a session or anything but it was fairly full-on – and not quick scrums.

"We were hitting and staying in scrums to work up a bit of scrum fitness. It's fairly draining and it's a good way of training it up as well because the way it's going now with the hit and the hold."

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