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Premiership Rugby

Healey ready for next England SOS

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

Having missed out on the initial selection for coach Clive Woodward's World Cup squad, Healey nearly found himself Australia-bound in the week building up to England's pool clash against South Africa as the Men in White suffered an injury crisis, finding themselves short of scrum-half cover.

But a minor ankle injury meant that he had to turn down the request and, in hindsight, Healey admitted to this website that his injury was a 'lucky' intervention given that the next man on Woodward's list – Martyn Wood of Wasps – had barely touched down in Australia before he was flying back to the UK, England deciding to struggle on with their existing personnel.

"The ankle's good and I'd be available now if I got the call," declared Healey, who should feature in Leicester's Midlands derby against Northampton this Saturday.

As you'd expect from a player who has contributed so much to the England cause during his 51-cap career, Healey is keeping a close watch on events in Australia as Woodward's men continue their battle to become the first Northern Hemisphere team to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.

As well as their on-field opponents, England are also battling against the hostile local media, the country's papers giving space to much anti-English comment, one leading publication even putting a picture of Jonny Wilkinson on their front page with the headline: "Is that all you've got?"

Healey is well-acquainted with the Aussie media, having become something of a hate figure for them during the 2001 Lions tour Down Under, but he thinks these latest brickbats will not distract England from the task in hand.

"Those sort of articles will have very little effect on the way England approach their games," said Healey.

"The majority of the lads won't even have seen any of the press articles – picking up an Australian paper is not the first thing you do when you're over there, so the boys probably won't have a clue what's being said by the media."

England's next outing comes against the hard-tackling Samoans in Melbourne on Sunday, England at near full-strength for the pool encounter, and Healey is convinced that Woodward is absolutely right to include his big-name players for the match – even priceless goal-kicker Jonny Wilkinson whose continuing fitness is so crucial to England's hopes.

Surely playing Wilkinson against such a physical side is a risk, especially when you have able deputies in Mike Catt and Paul Grayson in the squad?

Not according to Healey.

"The word 'risk' is really an unfair word to use when you're talking about a team like Samoa who are a very strong side and worthy World Cup competitors" said Healey.

"You have to give a team like that respect in your team selection. You can't afford to start thinking about other games further down the road and resting your key players, because that's when you lose your focus and put yourself in danger of losing the game. Just look at what Samoa did against Wales back in 1991."

So, for now, Healey is fully committed to the cause at Leicester as the Tigers try to dig themselves out of an early season hole, which sees them in a place to which they are near strangers – the bottom half of the Premiership table.

With three defeats in six outings, the Tigers are determined to start working their way back up the table, despite being deprived of the services of several world-class players to England's World Cup campaign.

"Everybody's working hard in training with that goal of turning it around in mind," said Healey.

"We've had a couple of unfortunate weeks with decisions going against us, but hopefully we can get back to winning ways at Welford Road on Saturday."

But Healey has no complaints about Premiership fixtures continuing right the way throughout the RWC, despite the devastating effect it has had on the Tigers' fortunes.

"Well, we knew the World Cup was happening when those guys signed their contracts with the club," said Healey.

"Obviously it's difficult when your entire pack is in Australia – bar Graham Rowntree – but we're just trying to focus on doing as well as we can with the players who are still here.

"We need general improvements throughout the team and have been punished for a few individual mistakes at wrong times. When you've suffered a couple of losses it can lead to a lack in confidence so we need to get a couple of wins under our belt to help with that."

By Justin O'Regan

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