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Ireland still pack punch: Healy

By Niall Crozier

Cian Healy wins his 34th Ireland cap tomorrow. Of the eight Irish forwards, only captain Jamie Heaslip — 50 caps — has more international experience.

we still pack punch: healy ’VETERAN’ PROP CONFIDENT INEXPERIENCED FORWARDS CAN POWER PAST SPRINGBOKSScrumming down: |Prop Cian Healy is one of |the cornerstones of |Ireland’s pack inphoCIAN Healy wins his 34th Ireland cap tomorrow. Of the eight Irish forwards, only captain Jamie Heaslip — 50 caps — has more international experience.

This will be hooker Richardt Strauss’s debut. Tight-head Mike Ross has 22 caps thus far, which is one more than Donnacha Ryan whose fellow-lock Mike McCarthy boasts only four.

Flankers Peter O’Mahony and Chris Henry have played on seven and two occasions respectively.

The bottom line is that shorn of stalwarts like Paul O’Connell, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris and Sean O’Brien it’s an inexperienced pack in terms of international man-hours.

Healy, however, dismisses the noun ‘veteran’ when it is suggested that will be his status tomorrow when patched-up Ireland face South Africa. Preferring to highlight age rather than international honours he says: “I’ll leave Rossy as the veteran.”

His angst is understandable; Healy turned 25 last month whereas Ross will be 33 in December.

He is dismissive, too, of any suggestion that with injured flankers Ferris and O’Brien missing, Ireland’s ball-carrying threat is much reduced.

“I wouldn’t worry about people not carrying ball. That’s what people want to go out there and do — get the ball and go forward.

“We’ve plenty who are willing to do that and do it well,” he insists.

One of those he expects to see to the fore in that respect is hooker Richardt Strauss who, after three years three years with Leinster, is eligible to play for Ireland.

Healy, who has seen him flourish in that time, is a big advocate of South African Strauss.

“It (his progress) has been very gradual. There was no immediate, sudden stuff. But you can just see the amount of hard work he has put in, learning the game and how we play at Leinster,” he says.

“He knows how we’re going for it together with Ireland as well, so it’s something he has put a lot of time and work into, studying how the game is played here.

“It fits perfectly with him and how he wants to play. He’s a quick guy, likes to tackle, likes to poach and stuff and that’s what we’re after — a good, fast game, good tackles, up on the ball and — if you get it — going back into the line and attacking.

“We’re all about building phases; get a couple of phases with a couple of hard runners and that kind of fits in with me and Jamie (Heaslip).”

Having lauded Strauss, he hailed Leinster mate and Ireland captain Heaslip, too.

“You’ve no fear in him stepping up to that. He’s not shy of being a captain with Leinster or anything like that,” Healy says.

Leinster are unbeaten in any match in which Heaslip has led them, a fact Healy highlights by saying: “He’s sort of blagging his 100% record in there and no doubt he’s going to want to do that again after the (South Africa) game.

“No, he’s worked hard on everything, he’s been the kind of uber-professional and giving him this opportunity I think is great.”

He knows the Springboks will bring intense physicality, their game being based on big, powerful forwards. But the Springboks have no monopoly when it comes to aggression.

“Physically the games are pretty hard and we’re putting ourselves out there, trying to make hits and going into dark, hard places where you’re going to get bangs. That’s the nature of the game,” he reasons.

“We don’t wear full body padding or anything like that so it’s all about how we’re managing them (the knocks) and getting back. The lads are putting in hard work to do their rehab and people are excited to get back and play.”

He is philosophical about the physical costs.

“We have to deal with that,” he says. “We have to be adaptable. Luckily we’ve got a good base of players that we can pick from and they’re all willing and dying to get into the set-up.”

Healy himself has just recovered from a shoulder injury picked up as recently as October 27 while on Leinster duty.

Asked if it had been “just one of those you get all the time as a front row forward?”, the loose-head’s reaction was: “Scoring a try, actually, so not too run of the mill.”

The injury sustained executing that touchdown against Cardiff is behind him. He reckons he is in pretty good nick for tomorrow’s confrontation.

And he is candid in admitting that his approach nowadays is a lot more committed than used to be the case.

Asked what has changed he responds: “I think I just got a bit more professional and serious about it. When I was starting off I didn’t do any study for the game or anything like that — just turned up, played away and went to the meetings.

“Then I got the cop on and started looking at the other teams, looking into my own game and not just show up on the pitch and play. It’s the kind of things you pick up when you see other people doing it and being so professional,” is his explanation of his new more focused attitude.

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