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Dublin: 3 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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Schmidt hopes powerful Henderson can be one of Ireland's 'go-to guys' after recall

The Ulster second row is back in the starting XV for England at the expense of Devin Toner.

WHILE DEVIN TONER can consider himself incredibly unfortunate to miss out on a starting place for Saturday’s Grand Slam tilt at Twickenham, the return of Iain Henderson to the second row is a major fillip for Ireland.

Iain Henderson with Devin Toner and John Ryan Henderson is in for Toner in the one change to Ireland's XV. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Henderson has been restored to Schmidt’s starting XV in the only change in personnel to the matchday 23 from the win over Scotland, with the fit-again Ulster lock renewing his partnership with James Ryan in the engine room.

Schmidt has elected to return to the second row pairing that began the tournament as first choice and the main considerations for the Ireland head coach this week would have revolved around that selection.

Henderson and Ryan started the win over France on the opening weekend but there have been enforced changes since with Ryan dropping out for Italy due to injury and then Henderson suffering a slight hamstring strain in the same game.

With all three back fit, Schmidt decided to keep Henderson in reserve for the round four visit of the Scots, instead opting for the Toner-Ryan combination with Henderson providing a big impact off the bench in the second half.

In explaining his selection this week, the Kiwi said the change had been part of an overall plan for these two rounds: “We almost did it the other way to be honest because James Ryan had a very big game against Scotland, we thought he might benefit from coming off the bench and getting a little less time but we can still manage that with Dev potentially anyway.

“Iain has got a little bit of time under his belt after having a couple of weeks off. We think he has probably progressed a little bit further and is more ready to go.”

The Ryan-Henderson combination certainly gives Ireland’s second row pairing a more dynamic and athletic look to it but while you’re gaining in that regard, Toner’s lineout intelligence cannot be underestimated.

The 31-year-old fully justified his selection against Scotland — as he always does — by leading the set-piece and carrying hard with ball in hand, providing more examples of his added involvement around the field having shed nine kilograms in the summer amid increased competition from Ryan.

Toner spoke lost week about reaching peak form again, so there will be huge disappointment on his part to be reduced to a bench role this Saturday, but Henderson provides immense, innate power as well as the ability to call the lineout.

“I think you saw a bit of it in the Autumn when he rang over Eben Etzebeth,” Schmidt said of the 37-time capped international. “That’s the power that he does generate. I think he did really well in this equivalent match last year [against England] when he scored the try.

“His ability to keep his feet under him and power his way through to reach out and score that was something that we really needed at the time, and it was the difference in the game really  — a four point margin with a seven point score it makes a difference for us.”

Iain Henderson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I think what people don’t realise is he’s a very intelligent man, Iain Henderson, and his ability to understand the lineout, to call the lineout.

“He called the lineout in that game and it was one of the first times in a really big game that he called the lineout, not Donnacha Ryan.

“We went Iain. Iain was absolutely nailed on and did a super job for us.

“There are a number of strings to his bow. He can be very physical defensively as well, and there were a few times, I’ll never forget when we played France a few years ago in the World Cup.

“He virtually picked Bernard Le Roux up and almost tucking him under his arm and taking him back 10 metres. That’s when you lift the whole team, when you deliver that sort of physical contribution.”

Schmidt will be hoping for something similar from the 26-year-old at Twickenham this weekend, with his strength in the set-piece another key factor in the coach’s decision to restore Henderson to his XV.

“We can’t afford to not have our set-piece secure. It’s one of those things where if you’ve got a defensive scrum, you’ve got to be rock solid,” Schmidt added.

“You need those guys who can really deliver at set-piece and Iain is a guy who generates the sort of power that can lock a scrum up and certainly support whichever side of the scrum he’s on.

“He’s pretty relaxed about which side he goes on. In fact if you meet him off the pitch he’s incredibly relaxed, almost horizontal.

“But he certainly gets vertical when it’s needed. He will be, hopefully, one of our real go-to guys.”

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Ryan Bailey

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