Lean, mean Healy is ready for work
For years, Cian Healy typified the direction that the modern day rugby player is going in, but as he has gotten older he has learned how to get the best out his body.
The days of dragging his father's car along Dollymount Strand in an effort to get bigger, faster and stronger are gone, instead nowadays it's all about being fitter, happier and more productive.
Injuries have hampered his progress in recent years, while the emergence of Jack McGrath as a world-class prop has complicated matters, but Healy still possesses qualities no other Irish loosehead has.
He has been rewarded for his outstanding form for Leinster with a start against the Springboks tomorrow, but the work that he put in on the summer tour, both on and off the pitch, has also counted in his favour.
"I think it has been a bit of a hard slog for him," said head coach Joe Schmidt.
"He's had to work really hard and build himself back into the game because he did have a long time out (injured). He lost his rhythm for a while but his rhythm is good (now).
"He is really positive in the group. He led unbelievably well in Japan. It was probably the first time, for me, that I had seen Cian actually have to shoulder a leadership role.
"Bestie is the captain. He tends to lead and has always been there in that front-row. Cian really stepped up in the summer when Rory and Jack and Tadhg (Furlong) weren't there and did a super job for us.
"We are just expecting him to continue and take another step back to where he was but even more so, take another step forward to where he can get to."
For Healy, the summer tour was a watershed moment. Being one of the senior players, he was forced to step up.
A run of fitness has helped but having the backing of Schmidt has given Healy an extra pep in his step.
"Yeah, I came out of the Japan tour with a pretty positive feeling about where I'm at and how I was playing over the summer break," Healy concurred.
"I had a real desire to get back into summer training which I wouldn't say I've had for quite a time. You're usually ready for your holidays and ready to kick the feet up.
"It's probably the first summer in a long time where I've wanted to train, keep on top of it, stay fit and look after myself."
Healy's brute strength remains as strong as ever but he has trimmed down considerably since the last World Cup.
Whereas he was once encouraged to pile on the weight, the switch in focus has coincided with his diet as well as his lifestyle changing.
"I've been putting a lot of work in outside training and at home, when I'm on my own and stuff," the 30-year old explained.
"That can go unnoticed, but when getting picked comes around, it's a good little nudge to say you're doing the right thing and the little hours and stuff are worth it.
"It's just looking after the body and nutrition. I wouldn't do so much strength, a lot of flexibility and pilates stuff at home. General well-being. It was never stuff I had to worry about or anything. But then this summer I decided to take a bit of my weight off, lean up again, become fast again and not worry about being a bit of a bulldozer. Trying to nimble up.
"It fits in grand, it doesn't knock your average evening chilling out or anything. I haven't found it the worst."
Healy is looking far leaner and that has been reflected in his performances this season.
He is getting around the pitch far quicker and has been devastating with ball in hand, as Glasgow found out to their detriment in Europe lately.
"They (coaches) were always saying 'Get to about 120kg and you'll be strong and heavy enough to shift anything.'
"I suppose at the World Cup, I was 125 then I dropped to 120 and I just didn't like it up and around that so this year I dropped it right down.
"I was 114 coming back in after the summer. I'm kinda hovering around 115 now and pretty happy with it.
"I just got rid of the s**t weight. There is no belly weight or anything like that. I'm probably the leanest I have been since, Jesus, I don't know, 2008 or so. I'm feeling good. I don't feel like I have any excess weight.
"We used to say at the start that we wanted me heavy because it was the easiest way to get the scrum going forward and stuff.
"I did that and messed around with it. They were on board with everything so when I said to the lads at the end of last year, 'I'm going to shift a bit of weight here'. I rented a cross-trainer for the house for the summer, stuff like that."
McGrath has been given the weekend off after missing training last week and he will be sitting uncomfortably if his rival has a big game against the Springboks tomorrow.
The ding-dong battle between the two world-class looseheads will continue for some time yet but given that Healy is in the best shape he has been in for quite a while, the gap has narrowed once again.
And while Healy has his sights set on reclaiming his starting spot with both Leinster and Ireland, he is aiming even higher.
"I've had a target of getting back to being a top prop, but it's not a target of being back where I was," he added.
"It's being the top. I don't have a roof set on that.
"It's not to be a better prop than Jack or Killer (Kilcoyne), it's to break everything I have before and try to reach new heights."
A most welcome return to form if ever there was one.
Ireland team to face South Africa in Dublin on Saturday: R Kearney (Leinster); A Conway (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong (Leinster); I Henderson (Ulster), D Toner (Leinster); P O'Mahony (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).
Replacements: R Herring (Ulster), D Kilcoyne, John Ryan (both Munster), James Ryan, R Ruddock (both Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), J Carbery (Leinster), D Sweetnam (Munster).
Ireland vs Springboks
Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 5.30pm