'Different kettle of fish' - Cian Healy focused ahead of New Zealand World Cup clash
Cian Healy was part of two famous Ireland victories against New Zealand, but four days before the sides meet in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final he had no interest in discussing past glories. For the 32-year-old loosehead prop, Tokyo on Saturday will be nothing short of the most important game of his career.
Healy came off the bench in Chicago for Ireland’s first-ever triumph against the All Blacks, in 2016. Two years later, in Dublin, he started in a victory that propelled Ireland to No 2 in the world.
“I don’t look back on any of them,” he said of his nine previous encounters with the All Blacks, seven of which have been lost. “They’re gone for me now and none of them have been at a World Cup, so they don’t matter an awful lot.”
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As with Johnny Sexton earlier this week, there is a strong sense from Healy that he needs to achieve in the ultimate testing environment if he is to be fully happy with a career that has brought him 94 Ireland caps and many medals.
“It’s going to be a different kettle of fish at a World Cup,” he said of Saturday’s showdown. “They’ve gone the whole way a couple of times and we haven’t, so it’s a huge challenge to us.”
If things go Ireland’s way, it could be the defining game of Healy’s career and he didn’t hesitate when asked if it was the biggest.
“Yeah, definitely," he said at the team hotel, which is located just a short walk from the entrance to Disneyland Tokyo. "I think everyone understands that and knows the position we are in and the opportunity. It is not a case of looking to get people to buy in - everyone wants in. That’s going to cause big challenges for the coaches, to pick that team, because everyone has put their hand up.”
Earlier in the tournament the Leinster veteran openly wondered how long he would hold off the challenge of the Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne, who has been having the season of his life. Three weeks later, Healy has strengthened his grip on the starting jersey and looks nailed on to pack down in Tokyo alongside captain Rory Best and tight-head Tadhg Furlong.
For many, the battle of the front-five forwards will go a long way to deciding the outcome and Healy is fully expecting the All Blacks to bring their very best stuff.
“Their lineout is very dangerous and they’re very quick with it, so we’re drilling hard on that – how to defend that and then how to go at it ourselves.
“Scrum-wise, I think you just have to be smart about it, because they’re quite a tactical, clever scrum. So it’s hard to drill for, but you have to be ready for everything.”
Eleven months ago, Ireland backed up the Chicago performance with another epic win and much of their momentum came from a dominant pack. If the service to the Irish backline is not of that standard, Healy knows he’ll be hearing all about it.
“We have such talent outside of us it would be a sin not to give them a good platform to play off,” he said. That’s where we get most of our pressure from - from nine and 10 barking at us if we don’t get our scrum and lineout right.”
The talk around the Ireland camp has been that coach Joe Schmidt will unleash some new plays in what could be the final game of his six-year tenure, should his team not prevail. Healy did nothing to dampen that expectation.
“We’ve got some new stuff that we haven’t done before and it’s up to them to figure it out.”