Cian Healy. Ben Brady/INPHO
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'I went into the middle of two of the best props in the world . . . Just give it a lash'

Cian Healy has downplayed his cameo role as hooker in Ireland’s win over Scotland.

HE GOT PLENTY of praise after finding himself in unfamiliar territory at Murrayfield last Sunday, but Cian Healy is doing his best to play down his memorable cameo appearance as a hooker in Ireland’s Six Nations win over Scotland.

Healy was called upon in the number two position for the final 32 minutes of the action in the Edinburgh venue following the injuries to Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher.

Andy Farrell’s men led by a single point  when Healy was introduced, with his previous competitive outing being Leinster’s Champions Cup showdown with Racing 92 on 21 January.

Add in the fact that he had never played as a hooker before as a professional, and hadn’t fully practised the role in training for 15 years. It could have easily become an afternoon to forget for Healy. Yet with openside flanker Josh van der Flier on throw-in duties, the 35-year-old veteran felt comfortable dealing with the technical side of the scrum in the company of Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong.

“I think the last time I hit a scrum was about 2008. I’ve done a couple of setups here and there, but to go live it has been a while. Front row is front row, in my opinion. There are technicalities you can iron out, but at the end of the day you just have to hit and push and strike,” Healy said.

“I went into the middle of two of the best props in the world, so I’m in a relatively good starting place. Just give it a lash, have a shot. Nothing to lose. I don’t mind if someone lifted me up out of the middle of a scrum. I can take that, but we ended up with 15 men on the field, when we could have been with 14. That’s the greater cause.”

Healy has spent most of his career as a loosehead prop, but has showed his versatility in recent years. While he hasn’t been used there for Ireland to date, the past two seasons have seen Healy being utilised as a tighthead by Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.

This coincided with Porter’s switch from tighthead to loosehead, albeit Healy has continued to feature prominently in the latter role. Sitting beside him at today’s press conference in the IRFU High Performance Centre, Tadhg Furlong praised Healy’s ability to cover all three front-row positions.

“I think a hooker and tighthead are not relatively similar, but more similar than loosehead to tighthead. In terms of chest position, head position and the way you balance weight on both shoulders.

“I think the thing Church [Healy] did unbelievably well was transitioning from loosehead to tighthead, and then hooker, and to pick up all three so quickly. It’s a testament to Church, because it’s not easy to do and you can swamp yourself overthinking. The man just went for it and did it so well.”

While both he and Furlong were starters when a Grand Slam was secured at Twickenham Stadium five years ago, Healy was also part of the wider Ireland squad when they completed a clean sweep of silverware in the 2009 Six Nations.

Keith Earls and Jonathan Sexton were also part of that set-up under Declan Kidney and while none of them saw action over the course of the tournament, all three players have gone on to become key figures for Ireland in the test arena.

Saturday’s showdown with England in the Aviva could be a groundbreaking day for Sexton as even a single successful effort off the kicking tee would see him surpassing Ronan O’Gara as the highest points scorer in the history of the Six Nations. A victory over the English would also see Sexton guiding Ireland to another Slam triumph in what will be his swansong season as an international and Healy believes this will be his primary focus for the weekend coming.

“He could take the points tally and someone down the line will take it off him, but if he takes a victory at the weekend, no one will ever take it off him. It’s something that belongs to him and a special group. That’s the sort of thing that’s going to drive Johnny,” Healy said.

“He lives for that successful feeling after a game. The Johnny you see after a game is the most enjoyable Johnny to be around. It’s a different person, it’s class. If anything is going to make me play better, it’s to get to meet that Johnny for a while.”

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