Cian Healy hopes a Leinster win over Ulster will help boost the Lions
Prop knows the risk of injury is big but is prepared to put his body on the line
The shadow of two different shirts cast across his back is not how Cian Healy would prefer to go into a season’s league final. The imperatives around Lions Tours and PRO12 trophies don’t seamlessly mix and with Ulster quietly simmering in Belfast while the ballyhoo blows around Joe Schmidt’s players, well it’s enough to demand caution. In that the loosehead prop is a brand leader.
Healy has never been damned for being overly garrulous and while he ploughs a Leinster furrow in Dublin while Warren Gatland does the same with the Lions in Carton House, this week has been as much about blanking out the thinking of one Kiwi in Kildare, double guessing another in Ulster and listening to a third in the RDS. Gatland, Mark Anscombe and Schmidt may laugh about it later.
Where that leaves the Leinster players is a moot point as two schools of thought diverge. Forced into playing catch-up after jetting off to Hong Kong, or, on a war footing and bearing the scars of a long and successful season, form opposing views.
“They have an advantage but they’re at a disadvantage of not being in another final,” said Healy. “You can look at it from any way. We’re in a final for Leinster, we’re paying that a lot of respect. When we get into Lions we will be complete professionals, we’ll be sitting down, learning the moves and be up to scratch come training time and that’s that.”
Healy’s no drama queen. Moving from Leinster to Ireland, especially with Schmidt now in charge, should be seamless. But with English, Welsh and Scottish players all bringing their own nuances to the same moves, as well as a completely new set of instructions designed to undermine Australia, there is a newness to the undertaking with Gatland.
Hitting the books and learning the moves can be a difficult process, with some players needing to walk them through on the ground.
Others are more comfortable memorising details from the page. In that Healy doesn’t erect barriers where none exist.
“It depends. I’m alright on learning moves,” he says. “I can sit myself down and go through a play-book. That’s the thing. There is a play-book there. We don’t have to go out and walk through each and every move. Some places don’t use a play-book and you have to do repetition to learn. These ones, we can read them, we can know where we’re supposed to be and can run it straight off.”
There still remains conflicting opinion as to whether those playing in the PRO12 and Premiership finals this weekend fall into a disadvantage or not.
Welsh flanker Dan Lydiate believes those now in camp may have the quicker start to the tour and although Healy likes to rely on performance with Leinster, coach Graham Rowntree sees enough rugby brain and ability to quickly level the playing field. A former Leicester and England loosehead prop, his area of expertise is also that of the 25-year-old.
“Given the nature and the class of those players I’m sure they’ll pick up the systems very quickly,” said Rowntree. “That’s why we’re picking them. The beauty of how we are doing things is very simple. Our calling systems are very simple with the understanding that we have got a very limited time to get things right. So, those guys will fit straight in.
“These are world-class players who are used to moving every week between club and country calling systems. They are used to that so they will pick things up very quickly and we will make sure of that. Guys will come off the back of pretty big battles and be battle-hardened and we want that. There is always the risk of injury but we would rather take that risk. I am looking forward to seeing those two games.”
The flipside is whether defeat by Ulster could travel with the Leinster players. The Ospreys win in last season’s PRO12 final hurt and despite the Heineken Cup success some players carried the disappointment through the summer. Three out of three wins for Ulster would be a bold statement.
“Leinster to lose this final would be devastating,” said Healy. “It doesn’t matter what the opposition is. Losing a final is terrible, something we don’t want to do. We’ve been working hard on our moves, where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do.
“In the last couple of years, there’s been success bred into Leinster. We want to win and continuously be the best, play the best, to have good moves and have players knowing what they’re doing.
“When that doesn’t come off, if we don’t come out of a game with the win or not playing well, that’s something that sticks.”
Gatland would approve.