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'To fill Paul O'Connell's boots would be impossible': Henderson a unique talent ready to step up

Ireland will proceed in the World Cup without the captain, but with the excellent partnership of Henderson and Toner.

Sean Farrell reports from the Millennium Stadium

RUGBY WORLD CUPS never fail to provide watershed moments for teams, and the careers of players that make them.

Under the roof of Cardiff yesterday, we certainly witnessed one when Iain Henderson bounded onto the turf to replace Paul O’Connell.

Replace him, not just for the remaining 40, but as a key fixture in the green engine room.

Peter O'Mahony, Paul O'Connell, Iain Henderson and Mike Ross Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He got off to a tremendous start in both senses. His powerful carries may attract the most attention in any given game. But the 6’6″ Ulsterman brought an enormous roar from the crowd minutes in to his second half appearance when he reached a powerful left arm out to steal a French line-out.

“It was around the halfway line and would have been a good attacking opportunity for France, we had to cut their opportunities down as much as possible. We know how much flair they can have. It was a boost to everyone,” Henderson said with hands tugging the straps of his backpack before heading off to celebrate Ireland’s job well done.

At 23, Henderson is still very young both in terms of his position and Test rugby. However, since he has stopped blowing up microwaves, there is a wisdom to be seen in him. He was ready, willing and able to replace Paul O’Connell, but he has enough confidence in his ability to make it clear that he is stepping in to play to his own potential – not anyone else’s.

“Coming in to start training with (O’Connell), I learnt a massive amount about how professional he is and playing alongside him is fantastic. He drives you around the pitch. His work-rate inspires you and pushes you harder and further than you think you could go.”

Devin Toner and Iain Henderson celebrate winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He adds: “I try to create something of my own rather than just stepping in to do something someone else has done. To fill Paul O’Connell’s boots would be impossible, he has been sensational for Ireland over these past few years. And if someone came in to try to do it better they’d be silly. You have to create your own profile.”

Henderson will now get the opportunity bed in to a regular starting role with Ireland alongside the man who kept him out yesterday, Devin Toner. Neither man will admit as much, of course, the competition provided by Donnacha Ryan and the rest of the pack is part of the reason they are able to reach such peaks.

“That starts on the training pitch for everyone. Everyone’s chomping at the bit, everyone wants to put their hand up to get selected and always trying to prove their worth.

“When players don’t get as much opportunities as you’d like, to get an opportunity off the bench when there might be something going wrong, players can put their hands up and say ‘I’m ready to start here’.”

Henderson is more than ready.

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Sean Farrell

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