SWAPPING IN AND out of the session against Joe Schmidt’s senior squad, the first thing that strikes you about Ben Healy — the Ireland U20 out-half — is his physical presence on a pitch where there is no shortage of it. Tall and well-built, he does not look out of place.
Taking over from Harry Byrne in the pivot, Healy exudes confidence on the ball. He takes it to the line, throws a pass off his left and is quickly into position for the next opportunity to create something for his team.
Ireland U20s out-half Ben Healy. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
It may only have been a semi-contact training session, but between Leinster’s Byrne and Healy there was enough evidence in a relatively short window to see that the pair — in direct competition for that 10 jersey — are not short on confidence.
Shortly after the open session at Belfast’s Queen’s University, Healy sits down in the clubhouse overlooking the pitch, with Schmidt just inside having completed his media duties.
“It was class,” he smiles. “A class experience and I can learn a lot from it.”
Running opposite Jack Carty at 10, this was another valuable work-out for Healy in his development as a promising young out-half. His talent has been earmarked for some time but he is fully aware that success at schools level is no guarantee of a smooth path to the top.
The 19-year-old, a product of Nenagh Ormond RFC, was one of the standout performers in the Munster Senior Schools Cup in recent years and in 2018 captained Glenstal Abbey to their first-ever Senior Cup title.
A string of classy and influential performances meant there has always been a lot of excitement over his potential and Munster wasted little time in getting him into their academy system, signing Healy up once he had completed his Leaving Certificate last summer.
“The whole programme is just designed to continue and then accelerate your development,” he tells The42.
“I’ve been really happy with how I’m developing in all aspects of my game, in terms of learning and then my physical development as well.
“I’m just trying to get the balance between improving them all at the same time and I feel I’m definitely doing that. I’ve been really happy with the year so far.”
Having represented the southern province at U18, U19 and U20 level, and Ireland U18s and U19s, Healy has seamlessly moved through the grades, showing maturity beyond his years through his excellent decision-making and game management, while his intelligent kicking game has always stood out.
He scored 19 points during the Celtic Cup campaign. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
Opportunities instantly presented themselves upon entering the Munster academy and five appearances throughout the province’s Celtic Cup campaign earlier this season provided him with further exposure and experience at the next level.
Training with Johann van Graan’s senior squad at University of Limerick is another important step in his development, his form then rewarded with a place in the Ireland U20s squad for the Six Nations campaign.
“You don’t really know when you’re going to be in with the Munster senior team in the week so when you get the chance you’re trying to learn from people but also take an opportunity,” Healy continues.
Having earned a big reputation through his performances for Glenstal Abbey, Healy admits he was somewhat surprised when everything reset to zero last September, but understands the need to back things up now and make positive and consistent progress.
“I wasn’t shocked but it’s almost like when you come into the academy or the U20s, not that the Senior Cup is worthless, but it’s like ‘so what, you won a Senior Cup, you haven’t really done anything in a professional environment yet’.
“Experiencing that pressure was definitely helpful but it’s such a big step up, the next few steps in your career. Winning a Senior Cup helps in your development but there are a lot more challenges ahead.”
Healy’s current challenge is trying to dislodge Byrne from the starting berth having made his U20 Six Nations debut off the bench against Italy last time out, coming on as a late substitute to convert David Hawkshaw’s try.
The Tipperary native is named on the bench again for tonight’s round four clash with France at Cork’s Musgrave Park [KO 7.15pm, RTÉ2] and feels the environment cultivated by head coach McNamara and the coaching staff has allowed him to grow as a player and person.
Healy regularly trains with the Munster senior squad. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“All I can really do is keep putting my hand up and keep trying to be the best I can be,” he says. “And selection and things like that, they tend to take care of themselves when you focus on what you can control. That’s all I’m really focused on at the moment.
“This year for me has been about developing as an attacking threat at the line and I’m really happy with how that’s coming along. The other thing that I’ve been trying to work on is tackle entry. I’m really happy with that development as well.”
Healy identifies his kicking, both from hand and off the tee, as well as the ‘typical out-half stuff’ like decision-making as two particular strengths, while he watches and studies a number of different out-halves from around the world in a bid to develop his all-round game.
“I just want to keep impressing,” he adds. “Whatever way opportunities come, whether it’s with my club Garryowen or in a senior session with Munster or the World Cup with the U20s, it’s just about taking every opportunity you get.
“There are always little windows to impress, and I want to do the best for myself and the team.”
15. Jake Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
14. Angus Kernohan (Queen’s University/Ulster)
13. Liam Turner (Dublin University/Leinster)
12. Sean French (Cork Constitution/Munster)
11. Jonathan Wren (Cork Constitution/Munster)
10. Harry Byrne (Lansdowne/Leinster)
9. Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
1. Josh Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster)
2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (Corinthians/Connacht)
3. Thomas Clarkson (Dublin University/Leinster)
4. Charlie Ryan (UCD/Leinster)(captain)
5. Niall Murray (Buccaneers/Connacht)
6. Martin Moloney (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
7. Scott Penny (UCD RFC/Leinster)
8. John Hodnett (UCC/Munster)
16. John McKee (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
17. Callum Reid (Banbridge/Ulster)
18. Ryan Lomas (Galwegians/Connacht)
19. Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
20. David McCann (Banbridge/Ulster)
21. Cormac Foley (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
22. Ben Healy (Garryowen/Munster)
23. Rob Russell (Dublin University/Leinster).
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15. Alexandre de Nardi
14. Vincent Pinto
13. Arthur Vincent (captain)
12. Julien Delbouis
11. Matthis Lebel
10. Louis Carbonel
9. Quentin Delord
1. Jean-Baptiste Gros
2. Rayne Barka
3. Alex Chisel
4. Gauthier Maravat
5. Florent Vanverberghe
6. Paul Boudehent
7. Sacha Zegueur
8. Jordan Joseph
16. Loris Zarantonello
17. Eli Eglaine
18. Giorgi Beria
19. Adrien Warion
20. Maxence Lemardelet
21. Kevin Viallard
22. Mathieu Smaili
23. Ethan Dumortier.
Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.
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