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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Feek: Cian Really Wants That Jersey Back

Feek: Cian Really Wants That Jersey Back

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek has spoken about the ‘healthy competition’ between loosehead rivals Jack McGrath and Cian Healy as the pair battle it out for the number 1 jersey against Italy.

There will be much interest in who features as Ireland’s starting loosehead when the team to play Italy is announced at lunchtime on Friday, with Jack McGrath and Cian Healy sharing the jersey over the first two weeks of the tournament.

McGrath’s Rugby World Cup debut against Canada marked his 11th start in Ireland’s last sixteen Tests stretching back to June 2014. Ultra consistent last season, he has made the most of his opportunities, most notably stringing together four Six Nations starts before Healy returned for March’s title decider against Scotland.

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Healy’s recovery from neck surgery to make the World Cup squad was a serious boost to the Six Nations champions, giving them two excellent looseheads to choose from. Scrum coach Greg Feek welcomes the selection headache.

Speaking about the contest for the number 1 shirt, Feek said: “It is healthy (competition) and it’s always been there. They respect each other for what they do and they each have different strengths.

“Cian has done really, really well to get back (since injury) and in some ways he’s just really grateful to be playing right here and now. I can see that fire burning in him and how he really wants that jersey back. It’s exciting to have those two going hammer and tongs at each other.”

Healy’s patience was certainly tested by his gradual recovery from May’s operation to remedy a neck disc problem. He had to wait until the last few weeks before the World Cup to prove his fitness to the coaches.

“There were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it and that’s why I was doing all this rehab (after the surgery). The doctors told me to keep plugging away at it and telling me, ‘it’s a slow one’, and when we started to see the results in late August, there were good days and happiness,” he admitted.

“I’m currently in good shape and having the chance of busting out the lungs and putting in some good work was definitely beneficial (against Romania) last weekend. You can’t do that in training. It’s all about the building blocks.”

The Clontarf native won his 53rd cap against the Romanians, and is now Ireland’s joint fifth most-capped prop of all-time, level with current tighthead Mike Ross and just behind Munster legend Peter Clohessy (54 caps).

Healy’s own memories of facing Italy are mostly happy ones. His five wins in six appearances against the Azzurri include the 36-6 World Cup pool triumph in Dunedin four years ago and a try-scoring contribution in the 2014 clash in Dublin.

He will need no reminding of the disappointing Six Nations reversal in Rome two years ago, however, and it is clear that he relishes packing down against the always durable Italian front row.

“They are big and strong and when you come up against the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni or Dario Chistolini, who both have big reputations, that’s what you thrive on. They have been at the top of their game for quite a while.

“The Italian pack is quite like what we have just come out of (against Romania) as they are big, bruising lads. If selected, I’ll be pretty happy about going into that. The physicality is the bit that comes easy for me.”

Michele Rizzo, who was Italy’s starting loosehead in their 23-18 defeat of Canada last Saturday, has acknowledged the strength in depth that Ireland possession in the position.

“Whether it is Cian Healy or Jack McGrath who plays, there really isn’t much difference between the two. They are both top class forwards who play for a prestigious club side (Leinster). Whoever plays will make it very tough for us,” insisted the Leicester Tigers clubman.

Ireland’s set piece game will be thoroughly tested by their Six Nations rivals on Sunday afternoon, and Feek is readying his troops for a tough examination up front.

“The Italians are very aggressive at scrum time, they’re very passionate about it, they’re all in there. They like to walk over the ball so that means they have to try to push you off it. It means that every time they have a scrum it will be hard yards. We need to have the mindset, we need to have everything else we’ve done to be able to combat that,” said the New Zealander.

Asked about the team selection this week, he added: “The best team to beat Italy has to hit the field. Now we have to make the quarter-finals, that’s the goal, so we have to move on. We need our team to be gelling. If we are lucky enough to beat Italy – and well –  then we need to build on that as France bring a different element in terms of size and power.”

Rob Kearney (mild glute strain) was Ireland’s main injury worry emerging from the Romania game. Fellow back Jared Payne had to sit out training today at Surrey Sports Park with a bruised foot.

Feek confirmed: “Jared didn’t train. He’s got a bit of a bruise on the foot, but we’ll see how he goes over the rest of the week. Most of the guys got out and trained. We’ll see how they come up. If guys have had niggles they get through this afternoon and then get assessed in the morning. Then, selection is from there.

“Rob ran around and a few other guys are looking good too. So fingers crossed for the rest of the week that we can go in to Italy with a full squad to choose from.”