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Dublin: 11°C Saturday 31 October 2020
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Henderson: ROG has to start against the Wallabies

Ex-Irish international feels that a change at out-half could be the difference between winning and losing on Saturday.

Will this be Saturday's half-back pairing?
Will this be Saturday's half-back pairing?
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

FORMER IRISH CENTRE Rob Henderson has called on Declan Kidney to take a tough decision and drop Jonny Sexton for Saturday’s crunch tie against Australia.

The Leinster out-half looked distinctly out of sorts as he struggled with his place-kicking during the 22-10 win against the US Eagles in New Plymouth, missing four penalties.

With a win against the Wallabies very much up for grabs — and with it, possibly top spot in Pool C — Henderson feels that Kidney needs to be strong and go with age and experience at ten.

“This weekend, personally, I think that Ronan O’Gara should start,” the former British and Irish Lion said yesterday.

He can target the corners, he can pin Australia back and run the game. He’s playing as well as he ever has at 34 years of age.

“If the game needs to be changed, you’ve got Sexton to come off the bench and make an impact,” he added.

Ireland’s disappointing performance against their Tier II opponents in New Plymouth last weekend has generated plenty of head-scratching and column inches as ways to jolt the team into gear are examined.

On the potential for a new midfield partnership — perhaps the Leinster pairing of Fergus McFadden and Brian O’Driscoll — Henderson warned of the dangers of breaking up a world-class double act.

“D’Arcy and O’Driscoll have to stay there,” Henderson said.

“Obviously, they didn’t play the best at the weekend for whatever reason, whether it was the weather or just a lack of them hitting their straps. But this weekend, in a big game against Australia, you’ve got to go with them in the middle of the park.

“They’re a world class partnership and if they step up to the plate and play as well as they can, I think we’ve got every chance.

McFadden is a good player. But when you’re at the World Cup and you’re playing Australia in a pool game, you’ve got to go with what you know.

One of the more pleasant selection teasers now facing Kidney is how best to utilise Sean O’Brien, who is expected to finally make his World Cup bow in Eden Park after shaking a knee injury.

O’Brien’s power and ball-carrying ability have earmarked him as the country’s top prospect at number six. And, while Henderson accepts that the Leinster youngster is best used on the blindside, he is confident that the Tullow man can effectively deputise for David Wallace on the other side of the scrum.

“Even if Wally was there, he’d be under pressure from O’Brien for that openside slot,” Henderson suggeted. “I think he’s that good.”

“He can do the groundwork for Ireland and then he can get himself out and be destructive — maybe not second phase, but third and fourth phase. He’s that good a player.

He’s an athlete, he’s absolutely electric. If you’re a good player – you’re young, you’re strong, you’re fit, you’re quick. I think he fits in seamlessly to where Wally was.

“It was a big loss not having the two of them in the squad, but with himself, Heaslip and Ferris in the back row, that’s as potent as you’ll see from Ireland.”

Heineken’s Rugby World Cup Ambassadors, Will Carling, Rob Henderson, Zinzan Brooke and Scott Quinnell visit Lost Society in Dublin on 12 September. View their Rugby World Cup predictions, comments and stories throughout the tournament on Heineken.ie.

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Niall Kelly

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