Monday 26 September 2016

'Man-child' Henderson is key for Ireland

More of the same needed against Romania ahead of crunch games

Johnny O'Connor

Published 25/09/2015 | 02:30

Iain Henderson is back for Ulster
Iain Henderson is back for Ulster
Jonathan Sexton seems to be back to his best

You couldn't have asked for more from the opening weekend of the World Cup. Ireland won comfortably, there was a shock win for Japan and reigning champions New Zealand were really tested.

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The only downside I can think of is all of the advertisements that reminded me of the Super Bowl, but you can't always get what you want.

But Ireland were very impressive, even when you take the opposition into account - Canada are no great shakes.

It was a bit slow at the start but when things clicked they threw the ball around really well and executed the game-plan perfectly. Ultimately they were comfortable and they got the all-important five points.

When you watch a game like that it's difficult to judge the nature of it. But the Canadians seemed quite physical.

Confident

Joe Schmidt's team had the prep work done as usual, though, and Ireland looked confident in themselves. They weren't afraid to try things.

One main talking point was the performance of Iain Henderson, who was massive again. He had a huge influence when he carried the ball and was the standout player in the pack.

His ball-carrying offered Ireland a different dynamic, something that had been missing for a while.

He's a big man-child really: if you look at his head you would think he's harmless, but he's a beast of a man other than that.

Henderson does damage around the gainline and gets over it every time. Against the Canadians he made significant yardage and asked questions every time he carried.

This could be the tournament where he announces himself on the world stage. It has gone really well for him with Ulster in recent seasons, but he hasn't been tested yet, internationally.

The big games against Italy and France are yet to come but I can't see him being left out for them.

I would leave the pack as it is. He carries the ball better than Devin Toner, although Toner is a better option in the lineout.

Toner could come back against France and Italy but Ireland would lose that ability to break the gainline, unless Henderson was to move to the back-row.

But who loses out then? People say Peter O'Mahony could potentially be dropped, but he also had a great game against Canada.

In the backline, Jonny Sexton was back to his best - Ireland play better when he operates to his potential. He had a great game, in terms of the wraparound passes, and he also crossed for a try.

His tactical kicks were incisive too; he is a world class player and when the big games come up, he is expected to perform. I don't think there was ever a doubt in his ability.

So that's one down and three to go for Ireland in Pool D - when you put the first weekend in perspective, Ireland did well.

South Africa on the other hand, are in real trouble after that loss to Japan. Before the tournament I said Springboks were a poor team, and things aren't right with them at the moment.

They are not poor players, they just seemed flat against Japan.

South Africa lost at home to Argentina in the Championship, so a result like this was coming. But God bless Samoa, tomorrow they will be in for some backlash.

The story of last weekend was Japan, however, and it's unfair to say South Africa were that bad, because Japan were absolutely brilliant.

Pedigree

Their coach Eddie Jones has a big pedigree in the game and they looked well up for it. But it was the biggest shock I ever saw in international rugby. And Japan deserved it.

Hopefully there will be no shock on Sunday when Ireland play Romania at Wembley - I expect more of the same for Schmidt's side.

Another confident and clinical performance would set them up for a right crack at Italy and France.

England and Wales is the big one, tomorrow at Twickenham. I can't wait for this one. There's no love lost between these sides, or between the coaches.

If England were to lose it, it could bury them in this tournament and would put real pressure on their coach, Stuart Lancaster.

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