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'The biggest game of my life’: Henry ready to hunt down Pumas

The Ulster openside wants to see if the Pumas can run the ball from deep in the knockout stage.

Sean Farrell reports from Cardiff

IRELAND AND ULSTER openside Chris Henry is ready for “the biggest game of his life” this weekend.

IrelandÕs Chris Henry Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Sean O’Brien’s one-week ban and Peter O’Mahony’s knee injury means Henry will slot in to the number seven shirt against Argentina on Sunday. Even before the team’s first defence meeting of the week with Les Kiss, he knows what’s required, more of the same.

“The 15 who took the field were able to get on top of France and really hunt them down,” says Henry.

“We need to get to work pretty quickly. We haven’t done too much yet, we’ve been recovering yesterday and a bit this morning. It’s time now for us to really prepare the week with the changes we’re going to need and really know our stuff for this game.”

If Ireland had been keeping their powder dry up until the do-or-die clash with Les Bleus, Argentina have been blazing a trail, starting off by giving the All Blacks a real scare before turning on the South American style to run in x tries with a scintillating broken-field attacking game adding to an efficient attacking maul.

Line-speed

The same old phrases keep popping up to describe Argentina: brilliant flowing attacks, growing in the Rugby Championship and building on their traditional base of powerful scrummaging and physicality. So how do you stop them ripping us up?

“It’s about being connected. Not putting yourself in positions where you can get caught one-on-one, because obviously they have some serious quality runners with serious footwork.

“We have to keep on top of what we did well last week, hunting the opposition down. Our line-speed hasn’t been like that in a long time and I think that was down to… everyone knows how fast or strong you are, but it’s about mental toughness. And having the emotion riding on you to get off the line and put your body in front. Go that extra yard.

“We’re going to need that and much more.”

Henry will have the emotional side of things sorted. It’s coming up on a year since he suffered the frightening ‘mini-stroke’ that plucked him out of the starting line-up to face South Africa and into heart surgery with dark winter fears over whether he would ever play the game again.

Speaking long before the decision from O’Brien’s drawn-out judicial hearing was announced last night, ‘Chad’ was ready to close off that traumatic circle in style.

“I’d love to get the start. It would be the biggest game of my life, obviously. Whoever takes the field, the whole squad is about getting everyone prepared as best we can.”

Jordi Murphy supported by Paul O'Connell and Chris Henry Henry and Murphy played in the summer wins over Argentina last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Unless Joe Schmidt decides to shift Iain Henderson back out of lock to do more damage from blindside, the remaining back rows almost pick themselves for the matchday 23. Jordi Murphy may face competition from Rhys Ruddock for the starting blindside berth, but with the Tullow Tank decommissioned for a week, he and at least one other will have to spend the rest of the week running manoeuvres without live rounds, replicating the brilliant Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe or perhaps Pablo Matera or Leonardo Senatore in training.

“I’ve been lucky to play against (Fernandez Lobbe) before,” Henry adds.

He’s an absolute warrior, he’s their talisman, I guess. Whoever’s going to get to play in the back row – as I said for other games – whoever usually gets on top in the back room usually is a telling factor in how the game goes.”

Another telling factor, is the nature of the game taking place the day after Henry’s 31st birthday. We are now officially in knockout territory. No bonus points, no concerns about winning margin, no grey areas, no ‘we’ll get it right next week,’ just one game with a black and white definition of success and failure.

With that in mind, Henry appeared to be laying a gauntlet down to the Pumas, challenging them ever so gently to run the ball again. Maybe that would be playing in to this natural seven’s hands.

“When you get to knock-out stage rugby it’s interesting on both sides: will there be more kicking? Will there be more percentages? Will you be willing to take the risk?

“I think both sides will feel each other out at the start of the game. It’s knock-out rugby so it’s very different from the pool stage.

IrelandÕs assistant coach Les Kiss with Chris Henry Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s the confrontational battles, the winning of the breakdown and all the wee small battles but there’s no doubt that the kicking game of both sides is going to be crucial.  Our line-out defence was good last week and obviously Argentina’s line-out is pretty impressive. So we’ve got to be getting the upper hand in set-piece and kicking game.

“I’d be very surprised if it’s not a very tight match.”

The timing of Paul O’Connell’s retirement from Test rugby meant that, 48 hours after beating France, the focus was still on the fallen ‘family members’ who have left or are leaving the squad. But that’s only because players are answering the questions they’re being asked. Behind closed hotel doors, they’ve wished Jared Payne, O’Connell and O’Mahony well and moved on to the next hurdle.

“It was more just immediately after the game when it hit us the most. Everyone could see Paul looked bad. Pete knew straight away he’d be going home as well. Once the whistle went, relief, and when we came into the changing room it definitely was more subdued than it should have been, but the fact that Paul and Pete were behind us… look we’ve moved on quickly.

“Rob (Kearney) said it before too: we can’t dwell on these things. We’ve put ourselves in this position; it’s exactly where we want to be.

“There’s history there that can be made if we step up to the plate.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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