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'I stared down not having it. I made a pact with myself to enjoy every minute I get'

Cian Healy has discovered a love for knife making and figured out the best approach to counter-rucking.

WHEN CIAN HEALY wants to switch off from rugby or whatever else is occupying his thoughts, he heads for the little workshop he’s put together in his garden shed.

For the last year or so, the Leinster and Ireland prop has been working towards mastering the art of knife making.

Sketching, grinding, heating, quenching, etching – the process has become a creative outlet for Healy.

Cian Healy Cian Healy is enjoying his rugby more than ever. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Formerly keen on painting, the 30-year-old jokes that his current hobby means some “very handy presents” for family and friends. 

“I was mad into food and barbeque and cooking, then my missus got me a hand-made knife and I thought, ‘I’ll give that a bash,’” explains Healy.

“I’m getting better at it and losing hours, so it’s a nice breakaway. I’m really enjoying it and trying to get to a really high level.

“It’s a huge release. I disappear into it and don’t worry about anything else. It’s the same as lads going playing golf; you find something to think about so you’re not worrying about rugby or anything else.”

When he leaves his knife-making sanctuary and tunes back into work with Leinster and Ireland these days, Healy is in a very happy place too.

The Clontarf man was superb last season as Leinster did the double and Ireland enjoyed major success under Joe Schmidt, and Healy feels in superb shape as the new campaign kicks into life.

Having leaned out notably over the last year or so, dropping down to a playing weight of 115kg, Healy has enjoyed a well-deserved run free of the injuries and delivered some of his best form ever.

Props are renowned for ageing like fine red wines and Healy, who turns 31 next month, believes he’s playing the best rugby of his career.

“I feel I’m getting better, not slowing down or anything like that,” he says. “The lads in Leinster have let me cater my own bit of training in the gym, so it’s been nice to adapt to my own stuff and train to feel fit and healthy, not just training to be strong.

Cian Healy Having slimmed down, Healy feels faster and fitter. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I don’t do some of the plyo [plyometric] stuff because it just hurts my legs, so they let me do my own things – working on my mobility or power base stuff. It’s nice to have that level of understanding with the lads, that they trust me enough to change it up a bit.”

Though he is some way off his previous max weight of 125kg, the famously-strong Healy is quick to stress that “fit and healthy doesn’t mean no PRs!”

He laughs when asked if he’d like to play on until the age of 40 – as Johnny Sexton is planning to do – before nodding and saying, “Ideally.”

Healy has had just one appearance for Leinster so far this season, starting the defeat away to Scarlets in the Guinness Pro14 a fortnight ago before sitting out Saturday’s big win over the Dragons.

He had several explosive moments in that clash at Parc y Scarlets, none more so than his eye-opening counter-rucking power late in the second half to force a turnover. 

Healy

Click here if you cannot view the clip above

Counter-rucking is an area of his game that Healy has been working hard on, having learned a harsh lesson last December when he was handed a three-week ban for charging dangerously into Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie.

“It’s an area I’m a bit scared about because I’ve been done [punished] with a similar one or two before, so I’ve worked on the accuracy of it and making sure it’s not a hot-headed approach,” says Healy.

“It’s got to be very accurate and you’ve got to know where your arms are hitting and so on.

“I’ve done the work in looking at video and spotting ones that I can go at because I don’t want to end up with a yellow or a ban for doing it wrong and hitting someone in the wrong way. It’s about learning to do them correctly and controlled to benefit the team.”

Healy says it’s important to recognise the cues that will allow him to make his best impact on the counter-ruck.

“There’s often big belly space between the fella over the ball and the guy on the ground, or someone looking away or sideways,” he explains. “There’s a lot of things that you can go after.

“It just depends on how well teams are chasing rucks and that depends on if we have lads going in to poach or not.

“If there’s not lads poaching, they won’t put as many in the rucks. You’ve got to weigh up what’s happening on the day. If we have lads going in for the poach at every ruck, it’s not going to be available. You’ve got to time it.”

Cian Healy takes to the field Healy will be back for Leinster this weekend against Edinburgh. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Leinster and Ireland will hope to benefit from Healy’s controlled power again this season as they look to back up their successes, while the man they call ‘Church’ wants to keep enjoying every moment he can.

Having come close to retirement in 2015, Healy vowed to happily embrace the rest of his rugby career.

“A lot of my enjoyment now is just taking these opportunities because I stared down not having it.

“I made a little pact with myself to enjoy every minute I get to train and play and take it all in. I’ve started playing good rugby again and I just want to keep pushing on in that and find boundaries and go over them again.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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