Healy and O’Brien proved their worth
It was quite the performance by Leinster at the weekend and most great to see Cian Healy answer his critics. It seems to be lost on some people that the prop is just 23-years-old. He made his debut for Ireland in 2009, having just turned 22. By contrast, Tony Buckley and the indomitable John Hayes made their first appearances for their country at the ages of 27.
The latter is rightly held up as an example of professionalism and dedication to all aspiring props and will go down in history as one of Ireland’s best ever.
However, he could never be compared to Healy in the loose and the youngster has time on his side to eradicate his failings in the scrum and occasional disciplinary issues.
On Saturday, he was unstoppable against top class opposition. Everyone on the Leinster side was on their game but his sheer desire to lead by example and from the front, especially in the opening exchanges of both halves, had Joe Schmidt’s side in the ascendancy at crucial stages of the game.
In the 10 years since his debut, Hayes has won 104 caps. Healy can surpass that if he stays fit and keeps developing the way he has over the last year or two.
He wasn’t alone on Saturday, of course. Seán O’Brien again showed how baffling his omissions from the big autumn internationals were.
Like Healy, he proved too hot to handle for the Clermont defence, consistently breaking the first tackle and making hard yards as Leinster tore into the French champions.
How Declan Kidney did not look to take the opportunity to test him against either South Africa or New Zealand last month is beyond me. Instead he opted for David Wallace and Stephen Ferris – two great players with nothing to prove, except maybe in the case of the Munster man who, at 34, is so far defying the ravages of time and 66 caps.
Not taking a closer look at emerging backrow options against the best possible opposition ahead of the Six Nations and, of course, the World Cup, benefitted nobody, but there is time to put it right before New Zealand.
Healy was given the chance early on, and he and Irish rugby will reap the rewards for years to come, because he can only get better.