Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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'The fire is starting to burn, Cian Healy wants that jersey back'
Jack McGrath has barely put a foot wrong since taking over as Ireland’s loosehead, but the man they call Church brings something else entirely.

Sean Farrell reports from Guildford

CIAN HEALY’S RETURN to the international arena was worth waiting for.

After spending the summer recovering from neck surgery, the Leinster loosehead was a welcome sight on the field in both of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup pool fixtures so far.

Healy was on the field for the endgame of the victory over Canada, and from the start a week later, helping to lay the foundations for another bonus point win over Romania.

“Cian’s come back and he’s done really, really well,” says the man keeping a closer eye than anyone, scrum coach Greg Feek.

“In some ways, part of him is really grateful to be out there playing. And I can see the fire starting to burn and he wants that jersey back.

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Cian Healy Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s exciting to have (Healy and Jack McGrath) going hammer and tongs at each other.”

Feek’s view that Healy is happy just to be on the field was borne out at Wembley by some incredibly heads-up rugby from the prop. In the loose, Healy’s game is built on using his power to break tackles and make hard yards.

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However, he shunned those traditional roles on Saturday too. First: he spun the ball right, recognising the potential to score a try through Tommy Bowe without needing another phase. And secondly, after half-time, he produced a glorious kick from hands that bought 70 metres worth of field position.

It’s not something we practiced in scrum training,” says Feek with a laugh, “and I don’t think Richie Murphy would take credit for that either. Cian can pull some things out that not many guys can.”

Whether he starts or plays reserve to McGrath in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, Healy will be required to get his basics right first and foremost. While Italy may struggle, the Azzurri scrum remains a weapon that demands great respect.

No scrummaging opponent is ever easy, Feek points out, but Italy really do relish it;

“They’re very aggressive at scrum time. They’re very passionate about it, they’re all in there. They like to walk over the ball so that means they have to try to push you off it.

James Allen and Sean Cronin with Greg Feek Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“That means every time they have a scrum it’s going to be hard yards. We need to have the mindset, we need to have everything else we’ve done to be able to combat that.”

Italy coach Jacques Brunel will have to do without hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini this weekend, but with Martin Castrogivanni and Michele Rizzo leading the charge, the threat remains potent.

“It’s always going to be tough. They’re low and experienced. Both their looseheads – (Matias) Aguero and Rizzo are well-seasoned in what they do. We know we have to be on song to compete with them and not do ourselves a disservice.”

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