IN ALL FAIRNESS - Healy has made the right decision

It’s not often that a man from Kilruane becomes the most spoken about player in Irish rugby as he was last week, well apart from the status of Jonathan Sexton’s cheek-bone that is.

Ben Healy’s decision to leave Munster at the end of the season, while disappointing from a local point of view, isn’t all that surprising and is entirely understandable for many reasons.

First of all, Ben is ambitious and while it isn’t that Munster aren’t ambitious enough for him at the moment, things that have happened over the last few months have suggested the writing was on the wall as regards his standing in the pecking order, at both provincial and national level.

In terms of Munster, he is in his fourth season and has been developing year on year since making his debut in November 2019. He really came to prominence at the start of the 2021/2022 season when he landed a monster penalty to win a PRO14 League game away at the Scarlets.

The big occasions were few and far between however, apart from last seasons Champions Cup quarter final loss to Toulouse where he had the balls to stand up and take two of the penalties in the shootout, which unfortunately didn’t come off. However, with Joey Carbery ahead of him in the national pecking order, which means when he is fit he generally plays for Munster in the big games. The recent progression of Jack Crowley which saw him not only get more game time at Munster, but also start against Australia in the Autumn Nations Series, more or less indicated where the international management saw Healy not only in the Ireland pecking order, but also in terms of Munster.

One of Ben’s best games for Munster came last November in the tour game against South Africa ‘A’ in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Yet, when the two big Champions Cup games came around before Christmas, Healy failed to make the matchday squad against Toulouse and Northampton. It’s hard not to think that was the time when Ben made the decision to accept the offer from Edinburgh to join the Scottish side for the next two years.

To some, this might appear like Ben is quitting but it is the opposite. With Carbery and Crowley ahead of him in the Ireland pecking order there is a lot of pressure on the Munster management to give them as much game time as possible, which means Ben losing out, as we saw last month.However, if selection was a solely Munster decision, you’d wonder would Graham Rowntree think differently such were Healy’s performances against South Africa ‘A’, and more recently against Ulster on New Years Day when he came off the bench to scoring the winning try and conversion in Munster’s 15-14 win. Then there was last Friday night in Cork in horrendous conditions against the Lions, Healy controlled the game superbly in Munster’s big win in the URC.

However, the most interesting aspect of Ben’s move to Edinburgh is it opens the possibility of him playing for Scotland at international level. Ben is eligible to play for them through his Scottish grandparents and has been strongly courted by head coach Gregor Townsend in the past.

Interestingly, Ben doesn’t have to play for Edinburgh to be eligible to play for Scotland so could, in theory, he could be involved against Ireland in the Six Nations on March 12th in Murrayfield, and also the World Cup group game in Paris on October 7th, which is likely to be decisive in who progresses to the quarter-finals. You can see the headlines now if Ben ends up breaking Ireland’s World Cup dreams once more.

However, he hasn’t made a firm decision yet on declaring for Scotland but there is no sense that unless there is a major injury crisis at out-half with Ireland in the coming weeks that Andy Farrell will come calling.

As much as the importance of Jonathan Sexton being fit to play as much of the World Cup as possible, is who will be the next in line if he doesn’t play, and unfortunately Ben doesn’t appear to be in the conversation. At the moment, Joey Carbery, Jack Crowley and Ross Byrne all played in the Autumn Series. Then there is Ciaran Frawley who went to New Zealand last summer while another Leinster man in Harry Byrne is also highly touted. Then there is Jack Carty in Connacht and Billy Burns in Ulster, both of whom have played at senior level for Ireland. All those players tend to be mentioned ahead of Ben Healy in any conversation of who is next in line for Ireland and Ben will know that too and if he wants to taste international rugby, it might have to be with a country other than Ireland.

But that is okay as his links to Scotland are a lot stronger than some current Ireland internationals have that are wearing the green jersey, and no one will think any less of Ben Healy if he chooses to year the purple of Scotland. In leaving the comfort blanket that is Munster, he has made the hardest decision possible. Only time will tell if it has been the right one!