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O'Driscoll backs 'luxury' defensive option Henshaw to take Ireland 13 shirt

Henshaw and Aki look to have formed a cohesive partnership as the World Cup looms.

Henshaw tackling Tomos Williams.
Henshaw tackling Tomos Williams.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

HE HAS LONG endorsed the candidacy of Garry Ringrose to be his long-term successor in the Ireland 13 shirt, but Brian O’Driscoll won’t argue against a starting midfield of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki.

The former Connacht partnership was re-forged again on the national stage as Ireland took over the world number one ranking with a 19-10 win over Wales. And while the 12 and 13 were split for the only Welsh try of the contest – an incisive close-range blast from Hadleigh Parkes – they were an impressive defensive unit in open field and offer plenty of power to go around or through bodies in attack.

Ringrose, meanwhile, has found his name being uttered by Joe Schmidt in connection with versatility and the Kiwi has mooted him as a cover option for wing and even out-half.

“I thought he’d play at the weekend if he was first choice,” O’Driscoll said of Ringrose as Guinness launched their initiative highlighting belief.

“His tackling stats probably don’t stack up… he has a lot of misses, but a lot of it is shutting down potential threats.”

The 40-year-old, a veteran of four World Cup campaigns, added:

“(Henshaw) doesn’t miss many tackles. I don’t know his stats, but watching him he doesn’t miss many. His scramble is really exceptional.
Having one of your best defenders is a real luxury. I think Garry’s a brilliant reader of it, but Robbie’s another level of a defender because he has the aggression and the size in the hit to come with that.”

“The try-saving tackle on Dan Biggar. That’s a phenomenal bit of technique as well as the will within him.

“They are real markers for coaches as well. The never-say-die attitude, coaches love that. As much as the Luke McGrath tackle in Cardiff last week really seemed to hold a huge amount of clout, those moments hold big clout.”

Saturday’s win has restored outsider confidence in Joe Schmidt’s men with the opening clash against Scotland just under a fortnight away.

guinness-unveils-new-campaign-as-official-sponsors-of-belief O'Driscoll pictured at the announcement that Guinness are the official sponsors of Belief. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Victory over Gregor Townsend’s men would set Ireland firmly on course to top Pool A. And while the basic tenets of Ireland’s gameplan won’t change, O’Driscoll expects to see some flourishes of attacking invention added to the mix.

“I think we’ll see modifications in a big way, there’ll be power-plays and a lot of manipulations of different defensive systems. Joe will have watched as much footage as he can against the first two (opponents) and you’d hope you can focus on yourselves against Russia.

“To understand the development of a pattern defensively and how to counter that is where he comes into his own. I’m sure we’ll see that in the first couple of games.

“We’ll see tries scored, hopefully, off launch (though) it’s becoming more difficult. Teams are aware that if you suffocate Ireland for four or five phases you’ve a chance of holding them out.

“I’m intrigued to see what grandmaster plan is going to be brought up for the different sides in the pool.”

Guinness has partnered with Ireland’s No. 1 Believer, Brian O’Driscoll to highlight the importance of belief and showcase the reasons to believe. Research commissioned by GUINNESS* within days of Ireland’s defeat to England in the GUINNESS Summer Series revealed that over half (58%) of Irish adults believe the Irish rugby team can win the tournament.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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