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'I don't see why he can't be back to that level. He's an extraordinary athlete'

Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty believes Cian Healy can return to former heights.

INJURIES HAVE BEEN cruel to Cian Healy in recent years, but Leinster remain optimistic that the loosehead prop can return to former heights in the upcoming season.

Now 28, Healy has achieved so much in rugby. Two Six Nations titles, three Heineken Cups, two Pro12 trophies and a Challenge Cup winner’s medal. He was picked in the 2013 Lions squad, only for injury to ruin his tour to Australia before it really started.

Cian Healy Healy is back in training with Leinster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

How often that has been the case. Hamstring, neck, knee, hand, ankle; Healy has been afflicted by all sorts of injury problems. His latest comeback is underway after the neck and knee issues that ruined last season for him subsided.

Healy took part in on-field training for the first time in Leinster’s pre-season last week and the province’s coaching staff, as well as Ireland’s, will be crossing their fingers that he has been punished enough with injury.

The question of whether we will ever see the rampant Healy of the Heineken Cup-winning years again remains. Is the ball carrier who trampled over Richie McCaw in 2013 now a memory of the past?

Serious injuries diminishes any athlete, but Irish rugby has faith in Healy. Last season, the IRFU handed him a new three-year national contract. Now, as he begins his latest return, there is hope that Healy can fight back to his very best.

He had the knee and a neck issue that look like they have worked themselves out and he’s in a good spot,” said Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty last week when asked if we will see Healy return to the level of years gone by.

“When I came to Leinster in 2008 as a player, he was flying around the place. He was back on the pitch last week and he’s still got the same energy for the game.

“Naturally, when you get on in years and have to deal with a few injuries, you adjust your game slightly, you adjust your approach to the week slightly, all this sort of stuff.

“With Cian, it’s been really good to have him back, he’s been giving really good information to players, helping younger players. But in terms of his energy on the ball, his ability to carry, his scrummaging, what he can do in a tackle and in a ruck, he still has that ability.

Cian Healy runs at Richie McCaw A fully-fit Healy is capable of making a huge impact. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I don’t see why he can’t be back to that level and I believe that with the experience he has now, he can keep moving forward. He’s an extraordinary athlete and seeing the energy he still brings, it’s pretty impressive.”

Healy’s travails have allowed Jack McGrath to become the first-choice loosehead with Leinster and Ireland, and the St. Mary’s man has thrived. McGrath is now one of Ireland’s most important players.

Peter Dooley has shown his promise at loosehead for Leinster too, while Andrew Porter emerged as a star at this summer’s World Rugby U20 Championship.

The explosive UCD prop has entered Leinster’s academy at the age of 20, but Fogarty is confident that Porter can prove himself at senior level this season.

“I think he can make an impact this season. I want to see him play for Leinster at some stage this season, without a doubt,” said Fogarty. “He brings a huge amount of energy; he’s very, very strong, as we all know. He has a huge engine.

“Prop is one of those positions where you have to learn your trade a little bit, so he’s got certain habits that he can refine a little bit. He got a yellow card in the [pre-season friendly] Ulster game, so he’s clearly showing a picture to the referee that the referee doesn’t like, and that’s something we need to work on.

“I think it’s about controlling and making sure the timing of Andrew’s entry into the game is right.”

Andrew Porter Porter shone for the Ireland U20s this summer. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

With Michael Bent still part of Leinster’s squad, the propping depth looks strong on the loosehead side, even if Ed Byrne remains sidelined with a worrying long-term knee injury.

Over on the tighthead side, Tadhg Furlong will challenge 36-year-old Mike Ross, while Oisin Heffernan is back at the province after a productive loan spell with Bond University in Queensland, Australia.

Academy prop Jeremy Loughman has made the transition back to the tighthead side of the scrum, adding another layer to Leinster’s long-term depth there. At hooker, Sean Cronin, James Tracy, Bryan Byrne and Sean McNulty are the options, with Richardt Strauss injured.

Fogarty, in his second season as scrum coach of the province, is keen to ensure that every one of his front rows is developing.

“Last year, at times I got so focused on that first group that you can take your eye off what’s happening down a little.

“It’s making sure that development happens throughout the group and these props are at a stage where we can train together the whole time. It’s something I’m more aware of this year. It’s very, very competitive.

“We want to have the toughest scrums during the week. If we scrummage six times during the week, I want them to be the hardest scrums they will have that week, so we’re really pushing the standards with all the players in that group – not just the ones that get to play on the Friday or Saturday.”

While Healy battles to regain the number one shirt at Leinster this season, Furlong will attempt to nail down the starting tighthead slot.

Ireland’s Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong Furlong [right] started the second Test in South Africa. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Wexford man started one of Ireland’s Tests against South Africa in June, and Fogarty feels that 23-year-old Furlong may be ready to make the transition into clear starter, particularly now that Marty Moore has departed for Wasps.

“Tadhg is in the best position he’s been in for sure,” said Fogarty. “I thought he went really well in South Africa. He started that second Test and I thought he did a super job, so he’s proven himself in a very tough arena.

“It’s a big season for Tadhg, certainly a season where he can take that three jersey. He knows that, we want him to do that and he will get the opportunity. He’s leading the group in terms of energy, speed, he’s had a good pre-season.

“This is the season where he really needs to show what he can do. Mike won’t want him to have it, so we’re hoping that’s going to work itself out. We feel very lucky to have Mike still in the group, with the experience he has. To see Mike interact with the younger guys is super, that’s what we need.”

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Murray Kinsella

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