Leicester quip looks for perfect exit line

Healey revels in a last crack at the big time as he heads for life without rugby - or Australians
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The Independent Online

They loathed each other. "It was me or him," Healey said. Dwyer was sacked. "From the day he walked into Welford Road until that blessed day he was asked to leave he made my life a misery," Healey said. And vice versa.

The Tigers are currently coached by another Australian, Pat Howard, and the relationship is not as taut, although Healey, who gives the impression he could start a fight with the Dalai Lama, was not always on Howard's side.

Howard arrived as an international centre before taking over the coaching of the backs. In his book The Austin Healey Story, published in 2001, Healey says he was "seriously pissed off with Howard, who I felt was out to wind me up. He wanted to use me as an impact player... that set the tone for our relationship, which never recovered. I was absolutely livid. I deserved a little more respect from someone with half as many caps as me."

All good things must come to an end. Howard heads back to Sydney at the end of the season - the Tigers have offered Wales's skills coach, Scott Johnson, another Australian, £300,000 a year to replace him - and Healey, who is still full of running at 32, goes into semi-retirement from a game he has been playing for more than 20 years.

"I am 18 months younger than Matt Dawson, I am younger than Lawrence Dallaglio, who is trying to get back into the England team, and I am younger than the England captain, Martin Corry. This is a scary time for players of my generation. They are fearing the end with no pathway to another career."

Today Healey is at scrum-half when Leicester re-engage with their old adversaries Stade Français in another key Heineken Cup encounter at Welford Road. The asthmatic Merseysider, who has a passion for Everton, teams up at half-back with Andy Goode, his one-time sparring partner. When Healey thought he should have been playing stand-off instead of Goode a few years back the two came to blows at a training session. It's a Tigers thing; and an Austin thing. Goode needed hospital treatment. "It was a flare-up, there are loads of those in training every week," Healey said.

Although Leicester lost the first leg to Stade 12-6 in a dire affair a few months ago, they have a good chance of progressing. "If we win by eight points or more we will go through to the quarters, but it's going to be very difficult," Healey said. "Everyone will have to front up. Stade are a great cosmopolitan club, but the thing with them is you never know how they're going to play. They can be terrible or brilliant.

"If they play a kicking game I fancy our chances. Pat prides himself on his analysis. We'll play away from their strengths. I'm glad to be starting. This could be my last big game at Welford Road."

Healey will no longer be on Leicester's books, but if they need him to help out next season all they have to do is call. He will be happy to oblige, not least because it will be his testimonial year. "Basically they'll be getting a player like me for free. It would be nice to finish my career as I started, playing at the weekend as an amateur. It was the best time of my life. I would turn up from college and screw the club for expenses. I would say I had driven down from Edinburgh and charge 20p a mile. And they paid it."

Healey was man of the match when the Tigers won the Heineken Cup at Parc des Princes in 2001, creating the winning score in an epic 34-30 victory over Stade, who had seen enough. They offered the Leicester Lip a lucrative contract. "If my wife had not been pregnant at the time I would have probably gone. Having said that, it would have been very difficult to move from Leicester. It's been pretty special."

In six clashes between the two clubs Stade lead 4-2, and when they won a pool game at Leicester two years ago it marked the departure of the Tigers' coach Dean Richards, the man who led them not only to domination of the Premiership but to back-to-back Heinekens. When they retained the cup, beating Munster in the final at the Millennium Stadium, Healey scored the decisive try.

"At that time we were a special team. We are heading that way now, but we have got to win things. Wasps are exceptional because they keep winning trophies. We are still in the Premiership race, and we are still in the Powergen Cup, which is a better competition than last season, but to win the Heineken Cup again would be a dream come true."

Healey has 51 England caps and went on two Lions tours under his old captain Martin Johnson - to South Africa in 1997 and Australia in 2001 - but never started a Test, which left him distinctly unimpressed.

On his return from Australia, where a made-up newspaper column on the eve of the Third Test caused some thunder Down Under, he was fined £2,000 for bringing the Lions into disrepute.

Healey keeps in touch with Johnson, who is relaxing in New Zealand, and his one-time golf partner Sir Clive Woodward. "Whenever I want to abuse somebody I ring Clive. Actually, I quite like him. He did a lot for my career."

Healey did not make England's World Cup-winning squad in 2003, although he was summoned to Australia in mid-tournament. In the event his services were not required and he returned home, leaving the others to receive their MBEs.

Peter Tom, the Leicester chairman, has just received an OBE. "I must be next on the list," Healey said. "Most people would be amazed that I haven't received anything yet." At times you could be listening to Austin Powers.