Finlay Bealham in line for Ireland debut after Cian Healy ruled out
The Leinster prop has been left out for Italy game after picking up a mild hamstring strain
Connacht prop Finlay Bealham (left) has been added to the Ireland bench for Saturday’s Six Nations match against Italy after Cian Healy was ruled out through injury. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Cian Healy’s “mild hamstring strain” is the same muscle that the injury-prone 28-year-old tore off the bone just over a year ago. It means uncapped Australian-born Finlay Bealham has been promoted to the bench despite Munster loosehead James Cronin being capped in the 10-9 loss to France in Paris.
“Cian pulled up in training yesterday and went for a scan which showed a mild hamstring strain,” said forwards coach Simon Easterby. “We weren’t prepared to risk that given Cian’s history with that injury. The hamstring has been affected before.”
So the Healy injury, according to the Ireland medical update, is more precautionary.
“We wouldn’t make any commitment to that yet,” said Easterby of Healy’s availability to play Scotland game on March 19th. “It’s a minor strain that is enough for us to protect Cian this weekend so we don’t expose him to something unnecessarily. The scan showed enough for this weekend to be too soon for him.”
Bealham’s selection is partly due to his presence, on merit, in camp when Healy pulled up on Thursday. Initially brought into the training panel this season as tighthead cover for the injured Marty Moore, the 24-year-old Canberra-born prop has started four matches at loosehead for Connacht this season and three at tighthead.
Seemingly discovered by current Ulster forwards coach Allen Clarke, Bealham qualifies for Ireland via his Enniskillen grandmother. Having represented Australia Schools ‘A,’ he joined Belfast Harlequins in 2010 and was capped by the Ireland under-20s at the 2011 Junior World Cup. That led to a Connacht academy contract with Pat Lam handing him a full debut against Zebre in February 2014.
The 6’ 1”, 18-stone prop has since passed out Denis Buckley and Cronin in the national loosehead prop pecking order. There may also be a future for him in the No 3 shirt considering Nathan White is 34 and Rodney Ah You switches from Galway to Belfast this summer.
Bealham, if used, would become Joe Schmidt’s 51st player since he became Ireland coach in 2013 and he would be the fourth – after CJ Stander, White and Dillane – of the last eight new caps not born in Ireland.
Schmidt used Cronin sparingly off the bench in Paris, and not at all against Wales, so the expectation is that Jack McGrath will play at least 70-plus minutes.
“It’s a big step up but we feel Finlay is well equipped to put in a good showing,” Easterby added.
Healy has had an atrocious string of serious injuries, requiring at least three invasive surgeries, since coming off the 2013 Lions tour with an ankle problem. Neck surgery last summer almost denied him a place at the World Cup yet he recently secured a three-year national contract from the IRFU. McGrath is on a Leinster deal until 2017.
“It’s been frustrating but Cian is old enough and mature enough to know that’s part of the game. He has to get himself right.”
Meanwhile, Ireland captain Rory Best was asked how the team intend to deal with the expectation to secure a comprehensive victory over Italy and so end a four-game winless streak.
“Those performances, when we haven’t been expected to win, have come off having our backs to the wall and we feel we are there now. We haven’t reached the levels that we expect of ourselves, that the coaches expect of us, we haven’t reached that this Six Nations.
“For us we have got ourselves in a position where we are against the wall so we need to come out . . . people expect us to beat Italy but they are a very good side. They got very close to beating France in Paris, they were in control for long periods of tie against England and even look back to our World Cup game – that was a seven-point game right to the very end.
“They will be coming here thinking this is their big opportunity to get a scalp. That brings pressure on us. We have seen over the last three games, when the pressure comes on, what sort of player you have around you, what sort of men are out on the pitch. That’s when you hope players will stand up. I’m very sure our boys will stand up tomorrow.”