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Wallace backs O’Donnell to step into O’Brien’s Six Nations shoes

The former Munster and Ireland openside believes the Tipperary man offers Ireland a greater ball-carrying threat.

Tommy O'Donnel (right) and James Downey of Munster tackle Leinster's Sean O'Brien.
Tommy O'Donnel (right) and James Downey of Munster tackle Leinster's Sean O'Brien.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

IRELAND ARE IN training camp at Carton House ahead of the Six Nations Joe Schmidt is already zeroing in on his starting XV for the Scotland game.

Despite naming a 44-man extended squad, then adding Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy, the New Zealander will have a very good idea on his team to kick off the annual competition next month. selecting wingers should prove a headache for Schmidt as he is spoiled for choice. At openside, Sean O’Brien may miss the entire campaign but there are two leading candidates for the 7 jersey.

The statistics from last weekend’s Heineken Cup games speak of two players in peak form. Henry made eight carries and a whopping 23 tackles in Ulster’s 22-19 win over Leicester. O’Donnell landed just six tackles but won two turnovers for his side and offered himself for 14 carries. He made two clean breaks and earned 49 metres for his team as they put Edinburgh to the sword.

David Wallace has long been an advocate of O’Donnell’s openside abilities and believes his former Munster teammate would do a job against the Scots. “I think they’re both fantastic players and they both would do fantastically in the Irish jersey,” Wallace told TheScore.ie.

Tommy has more ball-carrying capabilities than Chris but Chris is more dogged in defence, in terms of defence and upsetting the opposition. It’s pretty even but Tommy would be my favourite I think.”

Having made his Ireland debut against Australia in 2010, Henry’s international career has taken a while to come to a simmer. He performed well, in November 2012, when former coach Declan Kidney gave him his first start. Injuries restricted his Six Nations last year but he toured with the team to North America.

The 29-year-old looked in fine fettle on his start against Samoa in November but limped off after a battling 35 minutes with a hamstring injury. Last month, Henry told TheScore.ie: “I felt my hamstring go around the half-hour mark and knew my game was up. Unfortunately, the ball stayed in play for another three and a half minutes so I was out there hobbling around.”

He added, “It’s an opportunity for me, with Sean out, and I’ve got that opportunity to play and stake my claim. Saying that, there are a few other boys who are probably thinking the same.”

Leinster’s Jordi Murphy — now showing what he can do in the Heineken Cup — and O’Donnell are Henry’s rivals with the Munster man showing international form of late. He has two Test caps for Ireland. His selection with keep Schmidt from tearing up his favoured blueprint of unleashing a ball-carrying 7 while Jamie Heaslip does the dirty work.

The selection of the Wolfhounds team to face England Saxons, later this week, will give an indication of Schmidt’s mindset. Henry is in need of game-time having recently returned from his hamstring injury but may be spared the trip to Gloucester. Expect O’Donnell to get the start with man-of-the-match collector Jordi Murphy in reserve.

image*David Wallace, (pictured here with Daniella Moyles) was speaking at the Lansdowne Road yesterday to promote Aviva Advantages, who are offering rugby fans the chance to win access to the Aviva VIP Lounge for the Ireland v Scotland Six Nations game.

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Patrick McCarry

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