Andy Farrell has admitted feeling like a “cheat” for taking the honour of awarding Cian Healy his 100th cap for Ireland.
Bullish prop Healy will become Ireland’s sixth centurion in Saturday’s Six Nations decider against France in Paris, with boss Farrell’s men chasing a fourth title in seven years.
Head coach Farrell insisted Healy’s provincial and Test coaches of the past deserve all the credit for helping the 33-year-old reach the century milestone, hailing the Leinster star’s grit to rack up three figures in green.
Ireland must claim an unprecedented bonus-point win in Paris to add the 2020 title to their 2018 Grand Slam and triumphs in 2014 and 2015.
And Farrell revealed his pride in pairing that challenge with Healy’s major personal achievement.
“This is an unbelievable feat, and we honestly feel that it’s an absolute privilege to be involved in this occasion with Cian,” said Farrell.
“I feel hugely fortunate that as a coach I’m able to select him for his 100th cap.
“I actually feel like a cheat really, because there’s far more coaches that have done far more down the line than I have.
“But the group feels unbelievably privileged to be involved in such an occasion with Cian, and in such a big game as well.
“I think the key word for Cian to describe him has been resilience.
“And like any top player I don’t think they ever quite get comfortable enough to think that selection is just going to happen.
“And what’s driven Cian on to be able to get to 100 caps is his fight to keep on improving.
“And over time he’s understood himself and understood his body.
“I heard him say earlier in the week that he was a devilish kid and got away with murder as a youngster.
“But like any top professional who ends up getting to this milestone he has been unbelievably professional in how he has looked after himself and how he has driven himself to get to this milestone.”
Robbie Henshaw starts at outside centre in Ireland’s sole change from last weekend’s 50-17 thumping of Italy, the Leinster star stepping in for provincial mate Garry Ringrose who is out with a broken jaw.
Munster’s battering-ram centre Chris Farrell takes a seat on the bench after Henshaw’s promotion to the starting XV, as Ireland take on the resurgent French.
Jamison Gibson-Park has shaken off a tight hamstring to take a place on the bench, though Ireland will take Kieran Marmion in their 31-man squad to Paris as injury cover.
Healy will join Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes among Ireland’s centurions this weekend.
Farrell admitted that mark has handed the Ireland squad a lift this weekend, while the head coach insisted he has not even let himself imagine sealing Six Nations glory on Saturday.
“It would be unbelievable to even think about winning the tournament; I don’t know if I’ve even allowed myself to go there,” said Farrell.
“Just to be involved with this special group of lads, if you win trophies you win trophies together. It’s certainly nothing to do with me, it would be a collective effort.
“We’re doing it for the group, and for what’s going on in the country at the moment.
“And then the added little extra of a stalwart in our team having his 100th cap, it’s a pretty special week for us all.”
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