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Henry's return boosts Schmidt's back row options for World Cup

‘I think he’s a really good character to have in the group,’ says the Ireland coach of the Ulsterman.

LAST NIGHT SAW Chris Henry don the green of Ireland for the first time since the Argentina tour last summer, marking a swift and widely-welcomed return to the international game after his health troubles.

Chris Henry arrives Henry arrives at Thomond Park yesterday evening. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was left disappointed by a 22-21 defeat to the Barbarians at Thomond Park after a game that probably won’t be dwelled upon too much, but the try-scoring performance of Henry was one of a handful of positives.

The Ulsterman might have been thankful to be on the pitch at all, having suffered a mini stroke on the morning of the last day he was supposed to play for Ireland, against South Africa back in November.

Henry has worked hard ever since heart surgery following that alarming incident to regain his fitness and form. He re-entered the fray with Ulster late in March and has slowly but surely gathered momentum, culminating in a strong outing last night.

Following Ireland’s defeat to the Baa-Baas, Schmidt said Henry has muscled his way firmly back into the reckoning to make Ireland’s 31-man World Cup squad.

I think so, I think he is really good in the group,” said Schmidt. “He has an infectious positivity about him. He’s worked very hard and I think he’s shown a lot of character to get himself back into the frame and I thought it was great for him to finish his try.

“I still think he’s working his way back to the top of his game, but you can see he’s taking steps every time he does play. I’d hope that he continues to take those steps and he’s certainly in our thinking.”

Henry is a strong personality within the Ireland group, having strongly established himself with a superb 2014 Six Nations, when his excellence at openside and general leadership made Sean O’Brien’s absence a moot point.

Chris Henry runs at Jimmy Gopperth Henry barrels into the tackle of Jimmy Gopperth. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Indeed, Schmidt indicated that Henry’s presence in a cobbled-together Leinster/Ulster selection for Ireland yesterday was important for that ability to ensure cohesion.

“Part of Chris being there with Jamie [Heaslip] was to help Robbie [Diack], who hasn’t had a lot of time with us,” said Schmidt. “Dan Tuohy’s been out of the frame a long time and so just keeping guys organising there.

Inevitably Chris becomes the link with the backs in the defensive line, so it was just about matching up and keeping Luke [Marshall] and young Collie O’Shea organised tonight. That’s a strength for us when he’s giving that clarity.”

The back row competition for Ireland is happily fierce, with Schmidt having a range of options to choose from ahead of September. Rhys Ruddock will look to launch himself right back into the mix on the Emerging Ireland tour, while Tommy O’Donnell will return from injury for the World Cup warm-up fixtures.

For now, Henry will be content to be back in green and reminding Schmidt of his qualities.

“I think he’s brought a real discipline to his game,” said Schmidt last night. “He lives on the edge without going over the edge too often. He doesn’t tend to get penalised too often, but does tend to get on the ball.

“I think he’s a really good character to have in the group.”

Originally published at 06.00

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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