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Paul O'Connell: 'We are very happy with what we have behind Andrew Porter'

Andrew Porter has been ruled out of the remainder of this year’s Championship but Paul O’Connell is not fretting over his absence.

Kicking on: Cian Healy is set to replace Porter.
Kicking on: Cian Healy is set to replace Porter.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

CONSIDERING EVERYTHING HE  has won, four Champions Cups, seven Pro14s, a grand slam and three Six Nations championships, we really shouldn’t be asking questions about Cian Healy.

Certainly the earlier news that Andrew Porter would be missing for the remainder of the championship was a blow but it is not as if his stand-in has a blank CV. No, the only item on Healy’s resume that is worrying people is the line at the top, the one where it says ….. Age: 34.

As soon as you read that, it gets you thinking about the famous line that Joe Frazier came out with after the Thrilla in Manila, when both he and Muhammad Ali dodged death after bating the stuffing out of one another. “We went there as champions,” Frazier lamented some decades later, “but came back as old men.”

That’s sport. You grow ‘old’ overnight. Your past, your reputation, is always vulnerable to time. There’s always someone younger battling against you, always someone who can outplay you. Is that the case now with Healy? Or his 33-year-old Munster rival, Dave Kilcoyne?

No, was the short answer from Paul O’Connell to those doubts. He may be sorry to be bidding farewell to Porter until the New Zealand tour this summer but a door always opens as soon as another shuts.

dave-kilcoyne-tackled-by-david-sisi-and-edoardo-padovani Dave Kilcoyne saw action against Italy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We don’t have the strength in depth that other teams have,” said O’Connell of Porter’s absence, “and we don’t want to lose our big men, either, which is what Andrew is.

“But Cian has been back playing and has been great. Dave Kilcoyne has not had as much rugby played but when we have trained, it has been at match intensity, if not a little bit higher, and players have got great benefit from that. As well as that, the training sessions have been 15 against 15, so the guys have a lot more rugby under their belts than their match minutes for Ireland would have you believe.

“There is no doubt a guy like Andrew Porter – he is first choice at the moment – is a loss; but it is a great opportunity for Cian and for Dave. Like, Dave Kilcoyne started the game against England 12 months ago; we are very happy with what we have behind Andrew Porter.”

andrew-porter-tackled-by-danilo-fischetti Porter has been ruled out of the tournament. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Right now there is plenty for O’Connell, Andy Farrell and the entire coaching staff to be happy with. Compared to this time a year ago, they are in a good spot. Depth exists almost everywhere, except tighthead, and possibly second row once you go past the leading four options. Tellingly, O’Connell talked up Ryan Baird – ranked fourth in that department’s pecking order – in today’s press briefing. “He did really well against Italy; he waited for his chances and then he took them.”

Next, eight days from now, it will be Healy and Kilcoyne’s chance. “The boys have great enthusiasm. That counts.”

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So does every point in this Six Nations title race. The championship seems beyond Ireland – given how well France are playing – but you just never know. Friday nights in Cardiff are never straightforward, Wales showing in their comeback against England that they are hard to stop.

 “We have a great chance, we are still in it; that is the most important thing. We are playing some good rugby at times. There is real good ownership among the playing group; good enthusiasm, Andy has managed to keep them fresh in terms of how they have trained and prepared. They have really enjoyed camp. We are in a good place heading into the last two weeks.”

The good news is Robbie Henshaw will be joining them for the run-in. He went off with a head injury against Italy but is back training, O’Connell confirming that the centre has passed his return-to-play protocols.

“We need to improve everywhere,” O’Connell said. “Going away from home, Twickenham, full house, England just on the verge of a big performance, every part of what we do needs to be better.

“We had opportunities at the weekend to score tries and we didn’t take them just because of inaccuracies. We did that as well in France where we had opportunities but we didn’t deliver the kind of detail that we have delivered in the past to put teams under pressure. One of the big things being away from home is just being calm. There is never any lack of intent or passion or emotion when these boys play for Ireland. But being calm on the big occasion is an important part for us.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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