Connacht's Matt Healy adding consistency to try-scoring threat

The 27-year-old wing will be essential for Connacht in tomorrow’s Pro12 semi-final.

WHY ISN’T MATT Healy an Ireland international?

That question has been on the lips of Connacht fans and those of many outside the western province for much of this season, although the 27-year-old wing’s inclusion in Ireland’s two most recent training squads has eased the furore somewhat.

Matt Healy celebrates after the game Healy will hope to be part of Ireland's squad for SA. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Joe Schmidt, we can now rest assured, is fully aware of the Connacht flyer’s ability, those attacking skills that have brought him a league-leading nine tries in the Guinness Pro12. Healy could add to that haul in tomorrow’s semi-final against Glasgow.

Schmidt may name his touring party for next month’s visit to South Africa next week, and it will be fascinating to find out whether Healy is involved. Certainly, an outstanding display tomorrow would aid his cause as Schmidt makes his final decisions.

Not that Healy is thinking in that way.

“I suppose it is another opportunity, considering that the South African tour squad hasn’t been announced yet,” says the former Lansdowne FC man.

I’m always looking for that consistent performance in my game, but this kind of occasion is separate to any Ireland possibilities, so I can’t really get too caught up in that.”

That focus on the collective over potential individual gains is typical of this Connacht group under Pat Lam, and their togetherness is one reason of several for confidence ahead of the visit of the Warriors to Galway tomorrow.

A 14-7 victory over the Scots last time out, on the final day of the regular Pro12 season, is another but Healy says it is no sign of things to come.

“It’s going to be a completely different challenge this weekend, even though it’s the same team. I think when you look back at the history of back-to-back games in the Pro12 and even in European competitions, no game is the same.”

Matt Healy The 27-year-old has nine tries in the Pro12 this season. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Connacht have been preaching all week that nothing changes just because they’re now in a semi-final, but the pressure of the occasion will add a demanding new layer to the mental side of the game.

Connacht’s most recent play-off saw them show off their thrilling attacking rugby but, ultimately, Grenoble squeezed them out on a 33-32 scoreline in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Many critics argued that Connacht could have managed that game better, particularly in how they attempted to exit their 22, but Healy says the westerners will continue to stay true to their beliefs tomorrow.

“I think in terms of our approach to games, it is always the same and Pat’s been driving that since he’s come in, since day one. So in that sense we are very much going out this weekend to play our game.

Obviously, after that Grenoble game it kind of hit home to us that coming into the last few games of the season we need to tighten up on our defensive game and stuff like that.

“There was a little touch up that we addressed in terms of closing games out. But our approach has always been the same going into any game so I think you can expect more of that this weekend.”

The forecast rain might put a slight dampener on Connacht’s attacking intent, but Healy is sure to be central to whatever gains Lam’s men do make with ball in hand.

Healy’s finishing and line-breaking prowess are among the very best in the country, but he has repeated the need to build his consistency. How exactly has that worked?

Matt Healy Healy has been concentrating on improving his ball security. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I try and focus on every training session so, for example, I’ve been working on my ball security in contact. I can lose it, that was kind of an issue for me at the start of the season and I suppose it’s about just having that awareness.

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“There are a few technical issues that I am constantly addressing. It’s just an awareness in training, I set goals for myself in training – not to drop the ball or, if it’s in contact, not to get it stripped off me. That’s one of the ways in which I try and address those issues.”

There’s an interesting balance to be struck in that regard for Healy. One of the reasons he is so good at breaking the opposition defence is because he is so focused on doing so, almost expecting to cut through.

If he’s concentrating on his ball security, is there a danger of losing some of that mindset around breaking?

“Actually going into that Ulster game [in April], I had a sit down with Pat and we just spoke about the different opportunities you get in games and those decisions I’d have to make; when I get the ball whether to have a go, or recognise that the risk is probably greater than the reward and just take contact for the benefit of the team.

“They are decisions that I have to make and that’s another part of it. They are all things I can work on in training and that’s what I do.”

The devil will be in the detail tomorrow and Healy’s growing consistency may end up proving to be the difference.

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Murray Kinsella

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