MATT HEALY’S DAZZLING skills repeatedly silenced the crowd at Stade des Alpes on Saturday night as Pat Lam’s Connacht lost out to Grenoble in agonising fashion.
The 27-year-old, starting at fullback for just the second time as a professional, directly assisted two tries for Niyi Adeolokun, sparked the effort eventually finished by Robbie Henshaw and then scored Connacht’s fourth early in the second half.
For each integral involvement, there was scintillating footwork and searing speed, the attacking attributes that have helped Healy to the top of the Guinness Pro12 try-scoring charts with nine league tries so far this season.
Perhaps as impressive was the manner in which Healy drew defenders to himself before releasing perfectly-timed passes, as for Adeolokun’s brace and on several other occasions to allow his teammates to make up big yardage.
This latest demonstration of his quality will only further Healy’s Test claims. An Ireland U20 international, the Connacht man is uncapped at senior level but has been extensively backed to change that status.
Healy was called into Ireland’s training squad in the last week of this year’s Six Nations, a move by Joe Schmidt that added to the former Gonzaga student’s belief.
It was really enjoyable,” said Healy, speaking on Saturday night at Stade des Alpes. “It gives me confidence that I might be doing things right.
“But I know certainly from that performance I am going to have to lift it in the next few weeks. There are definitely a few work-ons. So if I am called on again I am going to have to address that.”
Healy’s short visit to Carton House last month didn’t allow for an in-depth catch-up with head coach Schmidt.
“Not really, I was in there for a night and a training session,” said Healy. “It was just all about preparing those guys for the Scotland game. We had a brief chat leaving on the Thursday but nothing since.”
While Healy made a handful of errors in his sensational display against Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble, the fact that he has shown an ability to play at fullback may further his chances of being selected for Ireland.
Schmidt is famous for desiring versatility in his matchday squads, and Healy will hope further fullback appearances – “I will leave that up to Pat” - can convince Schmidt that he is capable of covering wing and fullback at Test level.
Ireland’s tour to South Africa in June looms in the background for every ambitious Irish player and Healy wants to put himself in the frame to travel.
I certainly hope so,” said Healy. “There are definitely a few things that I need to work on; consistency being one, I’ve said that from day one. I need to brush up on a few things.
“Hopefully if I address them, again performing consistently well, hopefully that call comes.”
More immediately, Healy and his Connacht teammates must ensure any sense of disappointment from their 33-32 defeat to Grenoble does not linger into Saturday evening’s crucial Pro12 meeting with Munster at the Sportsground.
Sitting second in the league coming into the weekend, Connacht must now get back to winning ways.
“We will have to process [the Grenoble defeat],” said Healy. “In fairness we have spoken already about the positives we took from the game. We played some really good stuff and obviously we lost by a point, but there are positives we can take into next week.”
While finding the outcome massively disappointing, Healy did enjoy playing at fullback for Connacht, particularly in a game as open as Saturday night’s.
“It’s a lot of running,” said Healy. “Our structures and those sort of processes can open any team, and we have been doing it all season. I had a little bit more space at fullback, so I enjoyed it a little.
“I don’t know if it is harder to defend. It is a little bit different in terms of positions and stuff. It’s just working with wingers, left and right wing, working that way.”
Healy also took satisfaction from being able to tee up Adeolokun for a brace of tries. The pacy wing had scored just twice this season before the meeting with Grenoble and was facing light-hearted jabs from teammates about being a “non-try-scoring wing.”
Healy’s remarkable attacking quality ensured Adeolokun had two run-ins at Stade des Alpes.
“The guy is an unbelievable talent,” said Healy of Adeolokun, “he is exceptionally quick. He has been working really hard, so I am delighted to see him getting two.”
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