Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Selection dilemma
Schmidt: 'Iain has given us the right sort of headache, without a doubt'
Ulsterman Henderson laid down another claim for a starting place with Ireland last weekend.

THERE HAVEN’T BEEN too many major selection dilemmas around Joe Schmidt’s Ireland XV over the last 12 months or so, but the continuing growth of Iain Henderson means his starting claims are harder and harder to ignore.

Another rampaging performance against Wales last weekend added to the clamour for the Ulsterman to become part of Schmidt’s first-choice team, as it becomes increasingly clear to even the previously unconverted that Henderson is something special.

Iain Henderson Inpho / Billy Stickland Henderson is a formidable carrier. Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

The problem for the 23-year-old is that the men ahead of him have undoubtedly earned their places.

Devin Toner has been superb in the second row for Ireland throughout Schmidt’s tenure. At blindside flanker – Henderson’s other position – Peter O’Mahony has been a core part of the set-piece, leadership group and breakdown brains trust.

Leaving either one of those men out would be a difficult thing for Schmidt to do, and he hasn’t taken that step for the final World Cup warm-up clash against England in Twickenham on Saturday (KO 2.30pm, Sky Sports 1).

Toner is reunited with captain Paul O’Connell in the second row, a partnership that has driven Ireland to back-to-back Six Nations titles.

Iain’s had two full games so far, Dev has had a cameo really by comparison,” said Schmidt when asked if he had been tempted to pair Henderson with O’Connell.

“I did probably try to muscle the skipper out to be honest, but he wasn’t for budging! He felt he needed another game. It was good to get that combination back together again with Dev and Paul, they’ve served us really well together in the last two Six Nations.”

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However, Henderson’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

“Iain has given us the right sort of headache, without a doubt,” said Schmidt. “It wasn’t a form selection. It was a balance of game time and opportunity, so that we’ve got as many guys as ready to hit the ground running as possible in two weeks’ time.”

Cian Healy, Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner Billy Stickland / INPHO O'Mahony, Henderson and Toner tussle at maul time. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Whatever about the second row and that complementary duo of O’Connell and Toner, O’Mahony might be looking over his shoulder as Henderson’s consistency across the course of games continues to improve.

O’Mahony’s ability in the lineout can be under appreciated, especially on defensive duties at the front, but Henderson is no slouch in getting off the ground either. The Ulsterman also has an advantage in the ball-carrying department, while his counter-rucking, clearing of bodies in attack and tackling are generally excellent too.

Munster captain O’Mahony appears to be the more agile defender of the two, more comfortable when situated in wider channels, but then Henderson’s footwork going into contact is exceptional.

Looking at Toner, his mauling qualities, lineout jumping, consistency at the ruck and ability to make a handful of yards with close-in carries are all green ticks in his favour.

It’s a fine headache for Schmidt to have. Even though he’s not involved against the English, Henderson won’t stop knocking on that door.

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