Ben Healy relishing learning ‘to break the rules’ from a master

Outhalf credits Stephen Larkham with bringing a new approach to his play

Ben Healy makes a break during the Heineken Champions Cup pool match against Wasps at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ben Healy makes a break during the Heineken Champions Cup pool match against Wasps at Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Ben Healy initially made his mark as a clutch goal-kicker with Munster but this season there has been so much more to his game than those mighty spiral kicks and long-range penalties and drop goals.

Against Wasps last Sunday there was further evidence of how his game has evolved under the watchful guidance of Stephen Larkham: in the way he took the ball to the line, varied his passing, linked the play skilfully, was a threat himself and in the perfectly weighted chip for the first of Simon Zebo’s tries.

Healy is still in his first year as a professional, after three years in the academy, and Larkham has clearly been invaluable. If the 22-year-old has been like a sponge in soaking up information, one imagines he’ll soak up every little morsel from the former World Cup-winning, Super Rugby-winning, Australian hall of fame outhalf in his last season with Munster.

“It’s exactly what you would imagine it would be,” said Healy of working with Larkham before giving a revealing little insight into the slightly different approach the latter has always taken to the role of a ‘10’, both as a player and now coach.

“One of the first things I noticed with Steve early on was that he’s not afraid to break the rules in terms of what you are told growing up. Little things, like you are always told to run square or run straight as an outhalf for example, whereas he’ll tell you that in different situations you need to be able to drift on to the pass, you need to be able to cut under the pass. In terms of passing in wet conditions, he’s got little cues.

“So just little micro things. All the way up along, everyone is taught certain things, but because he’s been there and done that, he knows what works and what doesn’t work, and he knows that sometimes you’ve actually got to go against the grain.

“But that was probably the first thing that struck me with him, and I was able to learn that pretty quickly – that you need to be able to break the rules.

“And on top of that, I can’t say enough about him in terms of developing my game. He’s been absolutely fantastic. Always open to chat, always open to ideas, always giving me ideas. So I’m very grateful for the last few seasons I’ve had with him.”

The fruits of their work were demonstrated against Wasps.

Munster’s Ben Healy with Rory Scannell during the Wasps game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster’s Ben Healy with Rory Scannell during the Wasps game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“I think when I broke in last year a lot of it was based around my kicking game,” Healy readily admitted. “Whereas I thought I showed today that my game is progressing in the right way in terms of that more attacking kicking game, in terms of taking the line on myself, offloading, pass variety, that type of stuff. That’s probably where my game needs to go and that’s where the next step is for me.”

He was unavailable for the trek to Castres a week previously, when Jack Crowley displayed his classy potential, but with 28 games under his belt Healy is more established in the pecking order after Joey Carbery and was always likely to return to the team.

Munster have quite a talented young crop of talented 10s. Maintaining a tradition of articulate Munster outhalves, Healy was not especially concerned about missing out in Castres and thus feeling obliged to prove a point in response to Crowley’s performance.

“In terms of my own performance, I’m quite stoic about it. Wherever I am that week, I just need to perform. That was last week. It’s done, it’s gone. No matter how Jack went, it shouldn’t really affect my performance today, if we’re being honest about it.

“I knew what I needed to do. I knew what I needed to deliver for the team. I thought we definitely did that, but I’ve just got to take it one week at a time. Jack is a phenomenal player. We’re definitely pushing each other. But for me it’s one week at a time and all I can do is do what I can in that week.”

One of a clutch of outhalves figuratively knocking on Andy Farrell’s door, Healy makes no secrets of his ambitions to play for Ireland, but he is clearly patient.

“I mentioned being stoic earlier. I’ve just got to control what I can control, you know? I loved playing out there, it was brilliant, and that’s all I can do at the moment. Selection [in an Irish squad] is out of my control. Obviously I’m quite ambitious and that’s where I’d like to get to, but I can’t control that so I can’t really focus on it.

“All I can focus on is performing week in, week out when I get the opportunity. And I’ve been happy with what I’ve been doing this season, but we’ll let the chips fall as they may. All I can do is keep doing what I am doing.”

And all the while soaking up Larkham’s knowledge.

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