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'He's really lifted everyone up' - O'Connell keeping Ireland's standards in check

Iain Henderson says the Ireland squad have benefitted from having a fresh pair of eyes in the coaching team.

Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell.
Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated Mar 11th 2021, 5:00 PM

IT HASN’T TAKEN long for Paul O’Connell to make his presence felt with Ireland.

The former Munster and Ireland captain’s influence has been one of the more notable positives of a Six Nations campaign which has so far delivered two defeats and just one victory, his appointment as forwards coach resulting in a marked improvement in Ireland’s work at the lineout and breakdown.

And that’s only what we see on the weekends. Second row Iain Henderson, who previously knew O’Connell as a teammate, says his influence has extended far beyond what happens on the pitch come matchday.

“Obviously I had played a good bit with Paulie and knew what he was like,” says Henderson.

“From a player to coach, he hasn’t really changed a huge amount. Still massive on his detail and the intent that he wants everyone to bring to everything. 

“Obviously he gets everyone behind him. I think that’s something that he’s really brought in. He’s really highlighting things that we might have been letting slip, making sure that guys are keeping up to standards, whether that be with lineout or breakdown or even around the place.

It’s something that, when you’ve been in the environment like we have for a few campaigns, it’s easy for things to go by the wayside, and a fresh set of eyes coming in, he’s really lifted everyone up in terms of those sort of standards.

“So it’s great to have him in for that and I think everyone who is in here would agree that they’ve seen the impact.”

Henderson is primed to continue alongside James Ryan in Ireland’s second row for Sunday’s trip to play Scotland after a successful outing for the duo against Italy.

The Ulster lock was only working his way back from injury in the lead-up to this year’s championship, leading Andy Farrell to select Tadhg Beirne alongside Ryan for the opening round loss to Wales.  

iain-henderson Ireland lock Iain Henderson. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With a head injury ruling Ryan out for the defeat to France, Henderson came in to start alongside Beirne, before the preferred Henderson-Ryan combination returned in Rome, as the in-form Beirne reverted to the backrow.

Henderson feels the complexion of own role largely remains the same regardless of who is alongside him in the second row, but says he enjoys having both Ryan and Beirne on the pitch at the same time, a dynamic we are likely to see again in Edinburgh.

“To compare and contrast them, Tadhg obviously plays more like a six, whereas James plays more like a good, hard working yet still incredibly dynamic second row,” Henderson says.

“We’ve seen Tadhg playing in the back row numerous times, and he does an incredible job. But I enjoy playing with both of them on the field at once to be honest.

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“I think they compliment each other very well in terms of working well in the defensive lineout together. Even to have them both in the attacking lineout is very beneficial. 

But also around the park, Tadhg playing in that sort of a six role, not that James isn’t athletic… but the faster, wider channels, the more athletic block if you like, and then Cheese (Ryan) in the other version.”

Ireland have been the dominant force in this fixture in recent years, but the message coming out of the camp this week has been that this is a better, stronger Scotland outfit. 

“They have a massive counter-attack threat,” Henderson explains.

“They have substantial breakdown threats as well. Those are two of the areas we have looked at. We have looked at making sure when we do turn over the ball – guys like Finn Russell and (Stuart) Hogg are so good – we need to make sure that we are shutting those guys down early, make sure they don’t get a lifeline into the game through that.

“They have guys who can poach the whole way through their pack and backline too so our turnover defence will be huge for us.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Ciarán Kennedy

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