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Ireland need cool heads to conquer the French in Six Nations opener, warns Healy

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Cian Healy has a vague recollection of the first time he faced France in the cauldron that is the Stade de France.

The mind often has a funny way of blocking out things, and given that Healy's memories of that afternoon in Paris aren't that fond, it's no wonder he doesn't remember it too well.

"I was only saying to someone outside, I'm shocking at looking back," he says.

"It's something I took from when I was quite young - just park it and leave it."

Ireland were soundly beaten 33-10 in 2010 and Healy spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for a piece of cynical play inside his own 22.

Sometimes you just have to take one for the team but the 30-year-old's latest misdemeanour was more difficult to explain.

Healy recklessly charged into a ruck in Leinster's win over Exeter in December and was handed a three-week ban for his troubles.

The loosehead prop has been outstanding since his return to full fitness, but with Jack McGrath breathing heavily down his neck, Healy knew that moment of madness could have cost him his place in tomorrow's starting team.

Joe Schmidt is a stickler for discipline and doesn't stand for sloppy yellow cards - Healy accepts that, and put his hands up.

"Absolutely, you're on the back foot," he maintains.

"You just have to do everything in your power to put yourself in the right position for the next inclusion. Everything from fitness to knowledge work after the stupidity of what I did.

"It being a dead ruck and not having an impact to getting it into my head to only go for rucks that are competitive and not waste your energy and time on something silly like that. Players are in good brace positions that you're not going to have a material effect.

"I was pretty devastated, because it was positive intent and I just didn't do it right. That was a big let down for me.

"I was pretty gutted I let the lads down, so there was a bit of soul-searching afterwards and I started thinking about how I can positively influence the team and not end up in a position like that again."

On form, there is very little to separate McGrath and Healy but the latter is relieved that he managed to keep his place as he returns to Paris.

"(It was) Huge. Jack's come into real good form. Killer (Kilcoyne) was pretty unlucky with his knee because he was going strong too," he says.

"Jack and me have been battling. It didn't help getting myself out for a few weeks but I worked hard, treated that as a mini pre-season and flogged myself because I knew it would be a pretty big task at hand.

"I've seen it before, when Jack gets a jersey you've got to cut it off him to get him out of it."

Healy didn't need to be told what he did was unacceptable, which was recognised by both Leo Cullen and Joe Schmidt.

"I didn't get sat down or get a rap on the knuckles," he explains.

"Leo and the lads just said 'Have a look at it and have a think'. It was pretty similar with Joe - 'Have a look and think about the decision-making process behind it'.

"I'm pretty sure they know me by now. I'm not someone who goes out to hurt people and have a negative impact on the game. It's poor accuracy that let me down and, more so, let the lads down.

"They knew I was fairly hurting over it so they may have went easy, but they gave me that guidance on how to approach it."

The incident is now very much behind Healy and the manner in which he fronted up and spoke honestly about it is to be commended - others would have shied away from it.

For all of the changes that France have made, up front and in particular the front-row, which includes Rabah Slimani, will pose a serious threat to Healy and co.

That said, the Ireland scrum is a real weapon under Greg Feek and last year they only lost two scrums out of 71 in the 11 games they played.

"Our scrum is in a really good place," Healy adds.

"We've bashed each other in scrums at training. We've gone hard and it's been brilliant coming out and sucking for air.

"He's (Slimani) a tricky character. He has got a lot of dark arts up his sleeve and gets away with a lot of it and doesn't get away with some of it so we have to plan that he is going to get away with it.

"He just has to be respected. He is quality at what he does. If we can wear him out, hopefully he'll disappear."

France: TJ Poirot (Bordeaux), G Guirado (Toulon, capt), R Slimani (Clermont), A Iturria (Clermont), S Vahaamahina (Clermont), W Laurent (Racing 92), Y Camara (Montpellier), K Gourdon (La Rochelle), M Machenaud (Racing 92), M Jalibert (Bordeaux), T Thomas (Racing 92), R Lamerat (Clermont), H Chavancy (Racing 92), V Vakatawa (Racing 92), G Palis (Castres).

Replacements: A Pelissie (Bordeaux), D Priso (La Rochelle), C Gomes Sa (Racing 92), P Gabrillagues (Stade Francais), M Tauleigne (Bordeaux), A Dupont (Toulouse), A Belleau (Toulon), B Fall (Montpellier).

Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster); Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).

Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), John Ryan (Munster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Dan Leavy (Leinster), Luke McGrath (Leinster), Joey Carbery (Leinster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster).

France vs Ireland

Six Nations Championship:

Stade de France, Saturday, 4.45pm

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