Big Shoes

Loss of Henderson strips Ireland of second row options for Six Nations

Ulster are planning to be without Henderson for the rest of the season.

JUST OVER TWO months have passed since the debate over Ireland’s second row pairing raged with Joe Schmidt’s side ploughing through their Rugby World Cup pool.

Paul O'Connell and Iain Henderson Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It was a refreshing point to mull over, far from the usually front and centre out-half argument, or the debate over various back-line and back row combinations. It was an all too rare occurrence when members of the tight five were in the public spotlight.

Paul O’Connell was being Paul O’Connell, Iain Henderson was pulling up trees and Devin Toner was expertly sticking to the task at hand, giving Joe Schmidt no reason to look beyond him.

Iain Henderson goes off injured Presseye / Matt Mackey/INPHO Presseye / Matt Mackey/INPHO / Matt Mackey/INPHO

It all changed with a devastating hamstring injury to O’Connell against France, and on Friday night, Iain Henderson picked up a ‘severe’ hamstring problem of his own.

“Hendy’s situation at the moment is not a good one,” Ulster assistant coach Joe Barakat yesterday.

It’s severe – we’re planning on him not being back this season.

“If anything changes, and there’s a miraculous improvement in the diagnosis of the injury, then it’ll be an absolute positive for us.

“We really feel for him. It came out of the blue. It was a chargedown kick and he went to make a tackle, not necessarily in an awkward position, but ended up on his back in a lot of pain.”

Two months on and the pair who were, for many, the preferred Irish second row partnership for knock-out World Cup games are out of the running for the defence of the Six Nations.

Dan Tuohy and Iain Henderson with Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Devin Toner will be the obvious pillar on which Schmidt and Simon Easterby can build their pack around, but who can slot in alongside the Leinster man?

If there’s a line of succession, next up are Donnacha Ryan, who was part of Schmidt’s original 31- man RWC squad, and Mike McCarthy who was called up to replace O’Connell.

However, as sensible a pick as they might be, neither could be filed under the heading ‘long-term strategy’ in a post-RWC year when new beginnings are craved. From that perspective Connacht’s Quinn Roux could have been the fresh (yet familiar to Schmidt) face that could bolster the pack, but the South African was struck down with an ankle injury that will sideline him for three months.

Dave Foley wins a dropout Dave Foley was named man of the match in his debut against Georgia last November. Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Dan Tuohy is also out for at least two months. Elsewhere, Dave Foley is struggling to find the form that earned him his first international cap 11 months ago, but Leinster have a raw, talented and athletic second row in Ross Molony who could not only benefit from time in camp at Carton House, but add some quality handling skills to the pack.

It would be a plunge in the deep end for the 21-year-old, but perhaps the New Year will be a time for Schmidt’s side to take a few extra risks.

Who would you select alongside Devin Toner against Wales in the Six Nations opener?

Poll Results:

Donnacha Ryan (1744)
Aly Muldowney (367)
I wouldn't pick Toner at all, actually (280)
Ross Molony (205)
Dave Foley (143)
Mike McCarthy (97)
Someone else (73)

Joe Barakat was speaking at a Kingspan hosted media event in Dublin to preview Ulster’s ERCC match against Toulouse on Friday night in Kingspan Stadium.

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