BEN HEALY harbours no grudges about the fact he had to hop across the Irish Sea in order to break into international rugby, and he stresses that he is not currently looking any further ahead than Scotland’s final warm-up match against Georgia next Saturday, but when pushed he does concede that the thought of locking horns with the country of his birth in his new nation’s final World Cup pool match in Paris on 7th October is a tantalising prospect.
“I’ll probably cross that bridge when I come to it,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m an overly bitter person or anything. But, yeah, I suppose there could be an element of me having something to prove.
“Sometimes it actually helps to have a bit of a chip on your shoulder,” he added. “If people told you that basically you weren’t good enough for a certain club or team, then obviously you want to prove them wrong. But at the moment I’m just honoured to be here with Scotland and to be going to a World Cup.
Healy, who was born and raised in Co Tipperary, played for Ireland at under-20s level and all his pro rugby for his native Munster before committing earlier this year to join Edinburgh this summer whilst simultaneously throwing his lot in with the Scotland national team. He qualifies to wear the thistle through his mother, Maria, who was born in England to two Scottish parents and moved to Turriff in Aberdeenshire when she was still of nursery age.
He was first publicly linked with a move to Scotland in late 2020, when Glasgow Warriors were thought to be on the verge of signing the then 21-year-old before agreeing a deal to bring Duncan Weir back to Scotstoun instead, but Healy explained that conversations over a switch of countries started long before that.
“People within the SRU have kept in contact with me since I came out of school, to be honest,” he explained. “Once they found out I was Scottish-qualified they were always keen to get me over. It didn’t materialise until I was about four or five years into playing with Munster and decided to make the jump. But they were always keen. I’ve gone at the right time. I enjoyed my time with Munster and ended up winning a trophy there. But I can’t wait to get stuck in here over the next few years and see where we can take it.
“My mum’s obviously been delighted with everything [that’s happened] since she’s Scottish!” he added. “She’s from Turriff and we used to go over once or twice a year. I could never understand anyone! But it’s certainly a nice part of the world.
“She never pushed me or anything, but I could see she was really happy when I made my decision. We had a couple of days off [at the start of this week] and I was actually back over in Ireland when I got the call from Gregor [to confirm his selection].
‘The last year has been a bit of a whirlwind and it certainly hasn’t been easy at times. There have been some tough decisions and a lot of things which have been out of my control. But this makes it all worthwhile.
‘The reaction from my family and friends in Ireland has been great. But this is only the start for me. It doesn’t mean much to just ‘go’ to a World Cup – you want to actually ‘play’ in a World Cup. I want to play for Scotland for many more years to come. This is just a really exciting way to kick it all off.”
There is, of course, a fairly significant obstacle standing in the way of Healy’s dream of becoming a regular in the Scotland No 10 jersey during the next few years, in the inimitable shape of Finn Russell – arguably the best stand-off on the planet at the moment. For his part, Healy insists that he values being able to both compete against and learn from such an accomplished player.
“Finn has been great with me,” he said. “Between him and Gregor Townsend, I’d say those are the two I’ve learned the most from. Gregor obviously played 10 and as a head coach is always keeping an eye on you and making sure you can do better. I’d say Brad Mooar [Scotland’s assistant attack coach] as well, actually, who’s been great for my development.
“I’ve been picking Finn’s brains as much as possible and just watching him in games. I would have always watched him in the past but I’m doing so a little bit more closely now that I’m involved. If I see something he’s done in training or in games I’ll just ask, ‘what were you thinking there?’ and he’s very open. He’s just keen for me to be as good as I can be as that’s going to help the team.
“He’s a chilled guy but he’s also still really focused. That’s just his personality and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re all different within the squad. He’s just as focused as the rest of us.”
Healy first joined up with Scotland ahead of last season’s Six Nations and made his debut off the bench in the team’s final match of the championship against Italy, and his first start against the same opposition at the start of this summer’s schedule.
Townsend has spoken of his admiration of the way the 24-year-old quickly settled into the squad with positive contributions to team meetings and confident communication on the training pitch, but Healy says he did not immediately feel at home in his new environment.
“That didn’t come straight away,” he said. “I was in the Six Nations camp but didn’t play until the last game. So it did take a week or two to fully settle in on the rugby side of things. Maybe even longer to be perfectly honest.
“It was great this time before we played Italy as I’d been training with the squad for a number of weeks so by the time that came around I felt fully clued up on what we were trying to do.
“But it did take a bit of time at the start as Munster and all the Irish provinces play a little bit differently. For me to come over has been great for my development but it certainly didn’t click right away.”