THE HEINEKEN CUP hangover has passed and Leinster have turned their attention to the visit of Connacht in Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 encounter at the RDS.
Two wins from two in Europe have brought great satisfaction, but there is also a strong sense that improvements will be needed as the season progresses. Leinster’s scrum creaked at times against an admittedly powerful Castres pack, and Cian Healy is focused on leading the charge in that area.
The Lions and Ireland international says that having those two Heineken Cup victories in the pocket helps with confidence and cohesion, but there is no way Leinster will be taking anything for granted ahead of Connacht’s visit.
It’s a positive place to be at any stage, going into anything, but you can also be caught off guard when you have that behind you. So it’s not something we’re going to rest on. We’ve chatted about it in meetings and the focus will be to stay switched on.”
Leinster got the job done against Castres, but aside from the wonderful play that led up to Jack McGrath’s second half try, the impression was that there is still much more to come from Matt O’Connor’s side.
Healy is in agreement, pointing out that the set-piece is still some way off the mark that Leinster have set for themselves. However, the part-time DJ is also insistent that having room for improvement in a good thing.
“Everything’s to work on. It’s early days and we’re still plugging away with our scrum and lineout, pushing at the right time, jumping in the right place. If we were the finished product now, there’d be a problem.”
As with every other team in the world, there is still adapting to be done regarding the new trial laws at scrum time. Healy was making just his fourth start of the season against Castres, whereas some of the Top 14 side’s forwards had as many as seven games under their belts.
The Clontarf man points out that Leinster’s scrum remains at a relatively early stage of its adaptation and will only get better with time.
Healy’s ball-carrying power makes him a complete loose head prop. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne.
“We’re just getting used to it. It is a good bit into it [new laws] but there’s a lot of changes there. At scrum time there’s a lot of different calls from refs time-wise, so it’s just getting used to that. We train with it but you can never really simulate the same as hearing it from a ref.
“So it’s just getting used to the different sequences they’re going by. It depends when it clicks. It’s going to be the same as before; you’re going to have good days and bad days, and come across scrums that suit the new rulings. The aim is to make it suit us and plug away on it.
“That’s going to be one of our focuses, to get the set-piece right over the next while.”
One of the surprises of the season so far for Leinster has been the block of a 22-year-old tight head prop that is Martin Moore. The youngster has impressed when filling in for the injured Mike Ross, and even before that. Whispers of possible involvement with the Ireland squad mark how quickly his reputation has grown.
However, Moore’s good form has come as no shock to Healy, having scrummaged against Moore so often in training. The Ireland loose head says he has been aware of the former Castleknock College prop’s ability for some time.
It’s great. We’ve known quite a while now, Jack McGrath and myself, having to scrum against him. It’s not the easiest feat. He’s small and he’s hefty and he’s just a tough man to move.
“So getting a run of games, the opportunity to play and put it to use, has been paying off for him a lot. He’s put his hand up for selection even more.”
There was further encouragement in the sight of the much-maligned Michael Bent having a solid outing off the bench against Castres, with Healy saying that the New Zealand native is “in great shape” and has “added really positively to training” since coming back into the frame.
Ross will hope to recover swiftly from his current hamstring trouble, and the truth is that Leinster have the ingredients to create a dominant scrum under the new laws. Healy will be a huge part of that. Leinster’s flowing, passing style of play in recent years has been built on solid set-piece foundations and Healy is focused on ensuring that remains the case.
Getting his hands on the ball in open play will continue to be an aim for the dynamic prop, but taking care of his house at scrum time will always be the priority.
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