Rugby World Cup: Healy and Ireland back in the bubble as thoughts turn to Japan
All talk of prospective quarter-final against the Springboks parked ahead of meeting with hosts
Cian Healy and Josh van der Flier on the way to depart Yokohama by Bullet Train. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The morning after the night before and with another travel day looming, if a mere half an hour trip at 200mph by Bullet Train, the Irish squad were back in next-match mode. The outside noise may be of a prospective quarter-final against the Springboks but the Irish squad have their blinkers on again.
‘We don’t really hear the outside,” said Cian Healy. “We’re in the bubble. We live together, work together. Our talk, within us, is what we focus on and that’s next game focus now. The page is turned now for Japan and that’s our only focus at the moment.”
It is a measure of the detailed preparation for this World Cup that Healy is one of 15 players from the 31-man squad chosen for the two-match tour to Japan in 2017, although Joey Carbery would miss out due to the leg injury he suffered in the preceding test against the USA.
The other 14 all played in the two games, and 10 of them featured in the same Shizuoka Stadium as next Saturday’s Pool A clash when Ireland won the first test 50-22.
“From memory it was a lot hotter, 32 degrees or something, and it wasn’t as humid,” recalled Healy. “We’d been in New York before that and it was 35 or 36 so we had a bit of a build up but the humidity played a bit more of a factor.”
Playing the hosts will also heighten the sense of occasion.
“It’s a great opportunity. The style of play they have and the players they have is very exciting so it’s something we’re going to look hard at during the week and plan for and then when it gets to it, just embrace it and enjoy the game and enjoy the atmosphere because it’s a host nation, home crowd, a lot of Irish here as well so I’d say it should be good craic of a game.”
Healy and the Irish think tank will also know that the Brave Blossoms will be vastly the better for having negotiated their no-win opening game against Russia, when one can only imagine the pressure generated by such a long build-up to, in some respects, the biggest match in the history of Japanese rugby.
But if Healy and the players will, understandably, not be prepared to look beyond Japan next Saturday, if there’s one subject that is bound to make the words flow it is James Ryan, who has made prodigious strides since being introduced to test rugby on that tour.
“It’s incredible what he’s doing and just the shape he’s in,” said Healy. “He’s young, he’s put himself forward to be where he is and he’s worked incredibly hard at it. He doesn’t have a ceiling to where he can go to, he just keeps getting better and better and I don’t see it stopping.
“Just watching on, it’s something to take for any of the other players, to see how he trains and how he works. He works on every side of the game, I’ve roomed with him before and he’s sitting in the corner writing his notes before bed and seeing how much of a professional he is, it’s great to see.”
Healy confirmed that Ryan has become more vocal now.
“He has a bit to say and he’s pretty stern about saying it as well, which is good. He was fairly quiet at the start and hard to get a bit out of it but you knew there was something in there but he’s coming out now as a bit of a comic as well so you’re getting to see the full side of James now.”
As to whether Ryan’s quietness initially showed signs of respect toward more senior players, Healy said: “I don’t know what it shows, I don’t know if he was just absorbing everything as a young lad. That would have been his first run at it and I think everyone wants to absorb those opportunities and take everything in as opposed to getting vocal about it.”
Asked how Rory Best was after his 80 minute shift on Sunday, Healy quipped: “I haven’t seen him yet so I’d say he’s still in bed!”
Best’s performance will have at least temporarily silenced his critics.
“I think he had a great game,” said Healy. “He played very well. He was all over the park, it’s not a question of fitness but he was first back on a lot of those breaking balls. He played a really good game.”