THE chances of Ben Healy playing his rugby in Scotland next season appeared to grow considerably last night when Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair confirmed he was interested in signing the Munster stand-off.
Now 23, Tipperary-born Healy turned down the chance to sign for Glasgow a couple of years back, choosing instead to agree a new deal with the Irish side. However, with his contract due to run out again in the summer, the time could be right for him to agree to move to Scotland.
“We have an interest in him,” Edinburgh coach Blair said of Healy, who is eligible to play for Scotland through his Glasgow-born mother. “We are well aware Ben is out of contract. We think he’s a quality player and realise he is Scottish qualified, so we’re having conversations with lots of people.
“I can’t say for sure at the moment,” he continued when asked how close club and player were to finalising a deal. “I don’t have a definitive answer at the moment as we’re speaking to a number of different players. Not just 10s, a lot of different players in different positions as well.
“What can happen is that it can come down to the last minute when some guy says, ‘I’m keen.’ It’s a nasty business, the old recruitment stuff, and it’s difficult, as timing is everything. We’re well aware Ben is out of contract and that he is Scottish-qualified and is a very good player.”
Healy was capped by Ireland at under-20 level but has yet to win senior honours. He has slipped down the pecking order at Munster, and has been linked with a move to the capital club for a number of weeks.
While the chance to turn out for Scotland might be part of the appeal to Healy in making the short hop across the water, his initial role at Edinburgh would almost certainly be that of a back-up to Blair Kinghorn. Head coach Blair’s current recruitment plans for next season are based on the presumption that Kinghorn and a number of other senior Edinburgh players will be absent in the autumn on Rugby World Cup duty, and during that time Healy would likely be competing with Charlie Savala for the No 10 jersey.
“You need strength in depth in certain positions,” Blair added. “Your front rows, your 9s, 10s, you need to plan to have some depth.
“With it being World Cup year it takes more planning. We are aware Ben is available and he is someone who has been spoken to over the last couple of years with an offer from Glasgow.”
It is as yet unclear whether Jaco van der Walt will also be on Edinburgh’s books next season. The South-African-born 28-year-old, a full Scotland international, has made few appearances since Kinghorn was moved from full-back to 10. He signed a new contract for an undisclosed period two years ago.
Meanwhile, hooker Dave Cherry is set to return from injury on Saturday, when Edinburgh are at home to URC bottom club Zebre in what should be the perfect chance to return to winning ways after four consecutive league defeats. Taking the Champions Cup loss to Saracens and win over Castres into account, Blair’s team have won just once in their last half-dozen outings, and he admitted after last week’s loss to Glasgow that he was finding his job “challenging”.
At the time, that sounded like Blair saying he felt under pressure. Yesterday, however, he insisted that he saw being challenged as a positive thing.
“I don’t see a challenge as being a negative – I see it as being an opportunity to show what you can do,” he explained. “Me saying the job is a challenge is not a cry for help or anything. This job is a challenge and we’ve got to do some work to get better. A challenge is a positive thing – it focuses the mind.
“This has been a tough block and a really testing and challenging block – challenging in a positive way. We’re getting to see our players against quality opposition and we’re having to deal with some adversity as well.
“This is good for the group. Things have come out this week that, had we scraped a win, we might not have addressed them.
“It certainly wasn’t a crisis meeting, it was looking at our game and saying ‘What are we comfortable with?’ And we’re comfortable with a huge amount of our game.
“But there are little, two-, three-percenters that are preventing us from winning the game. We said every game since the autumn we could and should have won. That’s been against really strong opposition, so we’re doing a lot of stuff right, and we’re just looking at a little bit of the detail of what we can get better. A lot of that is around ourselves, and individual prep and expectations.”