Belfast Telegraph

Ireland's riches at loosehead is fantastic for Lions

By Cian Tracey

When Cian Healy first burst onto the scene, it seemed almost inconceivable, for a time at least, that so soon down the line there would be this number of quality looseheads fighting for the same place in the Ireland starting XV.

Healy's sheer raw strength and ability around the pitch hadn't been seen for some time in this country and although he has shown glimpses of a return to the kind of form that saw him rightly heralded as one of the best looseheads in the world, there is no doubt that injuries have taken their toll over the last couple of years.

Jack McGrath waited in the wings for long enough but didn't need a second invitation to seize his opportunity when Healy faced lengthy spells on the sidelines.

"I'm training as hard as I can and I'm in the best shape I've been in in a couple of years," Healy reported.

"I'm putting my best foot forward to get selected so hopefully it happens. But at the same time, Jack is a very good operator and he's done exceptionally well whenever he's been picked in the last few years. It's a good test for me now."

If the Lions squad was picked right now, McGrath would very much be a potential starter. There isn't a club in Europe that boasts such riches that Leinster - who host Northampton in the Champions Cup tomorrow night - have at loosehead and that's before even mentioning the up and coming Peter Dooley and Andrew Porter.

The fact is there has never been as many quality looseheads in Ireland as there is right now.

Had Dave Kilcoyne been born in a different era, he surely would have won more than the 17 caps he already has to his name.

The Limerick native has had his problems at scrum time in the past but Munster's resurgence this season has largely been down to their set-piece and Kilcoyne has been at the heart of that. His huge ball carrying ability also provides Munster - who go to Leicester in the Champions Cup tomorrow - with ideal attacking platforms.

"I've probably always been a ball carrier," Kilcoyne said.

"Rassie (Erasmus) wants us playing to our skills, if he thinks carrying is my thing he wants me carrying as much as possible.

"He has put in great systems here, he has a real positive coaching idea with great plans for the club. Tactically, we analyse very well, we prepare very well but the best thing is that he allows us to express ourselves.

"That's the best thing about him. Nobody feels constricted. It's the other way around. You'd probably find yourself out of the team if you weren't expressing yourself or trying things."

James Cronin's timely return from injury for the 'A' team last weekend will keep the pressure on Kilcoyne but both players face a huge task in trying to usurp McGrath and Healy from the first choice match day Ireland squad.

Such have been Kilcoyne's performances over the last 18 months, it is little surprise to see that several clubs including Stade Francais and La Rochelle are monitoring his current situation.

The 28-year old's contract expires at the end of the season and although the likelihood is that he will remain with his home province, given the queue he has ahead of him at international level, he will be keeping his options open.

Belfast Telegraph


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