AS IT HAPPENED, Matt Healy’s Ireland debut came in a manner he found to be less stressful than expected.
Of course there was concern for his injured Connacht team-mate Tiernan O’Halloran, but the sudden nature of Ireland’s need for an early HIA replacement on Saturday meant Healy was pitched into the Test arena without too much time to think.
He didn’t have to sit on the bench for 60 minutes nervously, instead bursting into the fray as a temporary replacement for O’Halloran, making a good tackle on Ruan Combrinck in his first direct involvement.
Healy took his place on the bench again after O’Halloran passed his HIA but permanently entered the contest at half time as the fullback pulled up with a rib injury.
“I suppose it was probably the exact situation I would’ve liked to have been put on,” says Healy of his introduction.
I didn’t get much time to think about it, I was just thrown in. It was so unfortunate for Tiernan to be taken off, especially in that manner. That was brutal enough stuff and I was delighted to see him come back on.
“For the second half, I was thrown on there and I felt all right, I felt comfortable. I’ve had a good couple of weeks training now with the lads and especially this week getting more run-ins knowing that I was going to be involved. So yeah, nervous in the week leading up to it but I felt pretty comfortable out there.”
Healy said he had “mixed feelings” after his debut; delight to finally earn international recognition but the same dejection as the rest of the Ireland squad at the failure to clinch a series on South African soil.
The 27-year-old points to the now retired Eoin Reddan as having been “a massive help” in the build up to his first game with Ireland, while Connacht team-mates Ultan Dillane and Finlay Bealham let him know what was ahead.
Healy was first involved with Ireland during the Six Nations, training with Joe Schmidt’s squad before the clash with Scotland. His fellow wings – direct competitors – have been aiding his learning curve.
“I came into the squad in Dublin and there’s so much to learn,” says Healy. “Luckily enough, I had some top guys in Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls and the boys were massively helpful.
“I hated for the last two or three weeks being that annoying little guy in the corner constantly asking silly questions but they were massively helpful.
There’s a lot of homework to do but I got over that initial period and learnt my stuff and thankfully I was given my chance this weekend, which I was delighted about.”
Healy travelled back to Ireland yesterday with his two Ireland jerseys – each player receives two per game – safely tucked away in his bag, while a “nice touch” from Ian Madigan provided him with a third.
“I kept two and Ian Madigan was good enough to swap one of his jerseys for me, so I got the number 23 jersey of South Africa, which was [Lawazi] Mvovo. So I’ve got my own two and the South African 23.”
Healy, like the rest of the Ireland squad, is excited for four weeks of holidays now. However, he is already thinking about adding to the first Ireland cap, keen to continue to grow the consistency that Schmidt has demanded of him.
“I’ve been warned now not to be stuck in that one-cap club, so again it’s something to work on but hopefully a lot more to come,” says Healy.
“[Consistency] is something I’ve been working on since day one and Joe has been in constant contact with me all through the season, and what he’s looking for from me – consistency.
“And again I have to say I’ve learned so much from the likes of Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls in the last three Tests. They have shown unbelievable consistency and unbelievable hunger, and their work-rate is something that I just didn’t understand before clearly.
“So there’s some things that I’ll take forward and try and work on myself, and hopefully it leads to a couple of more caps.”
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