Saturday 16 December 2017

Henderson calls for O'Driscoll switch

Rob Henderson celebrates after helping Ireland to victory over France in the Six Nations Championship at Stade de France
in 2000 and has been unveiled as one of Heineken's Rugby World Cup ambassadors. Photo: Sportsfile
Rob Henderson celebrates after helping Ireland to victory over France in the Six Nations Championship at Stade de France in 2000 and has been unveiled as one of Heineken's Rugby World Cup ambassadors. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Rob Henderson was one of the great jokers of the Irish team but he is deadly serious when he says that Brian O'Driscoll should be stripped of the No 13 jersey.

Henderson is advocating the move to ensure Ireland's greatest player can become a more creative influence and allow the younger talents to cut a dash outside him.

"I'd play Keith Earls there (No 13)," he asserts. "And I'd move Brian in one -- especially if Gordon D'Arcy doesn't make it, and that would be a pity because he's been playing reasonably well over the last two years.

"Fergus McFadden slotting in is reasonable enough, I suppose. I would like Earls to slot into the midfield area. But it can't be something that could be realistically done mid-tournament.

"They will have to have had a run-out before then. Earls could add a yard more dash to the role and, with O'Driscoll inside him, he'd have the perfect creative partner."

Henderson played inside O'Driscoll a decade ago, notably in Paris when his young team-mate first announced himself on the world stage with a scintillating hat-trick in 2000, then a year later in Australia for the Lions.

"If Brian steps in one position, all the opposition will be looking at him because he's the player that all the teams will be keeping an eye on. You could call him a second five-eighth in the classic Kiwi way of thinking.

"He can be another creative player and I think he's the only Irish player capable of playing in that role.

"And so with the defences narrowing in on him, there should be more space for the likes of Earls and then the other outside backs, especially with Rob Kearney coming into the line. It's definitely an option Declan (Kidney) should be looking at."

Henderson knows Kidney just as well from his days with Munster, sharing the infamous coach to Castres when the bemused players were shown 'The Lion King' amongst other ruses.

He expects the canny Corkman to produce something special in this tournament.

"Declan is a fantastic man manager. He gets the best out of his players. Psychologically he can get inside your brain, perhaps that's his teaching background," he says.

"He draws the best out of you; what he can do with a look or an off-the-cuff remark, it can produce the best from players.

"He can have a massive psychological impact on this World Cup compared to the last time when we didn't hit our straps at all.

"I'd say even though he knows his starting team and most of his replacements, I wouldn't be too surprised if Declan made a change to his team at some stage of the tournament, causing some people to think that he's going a little bit mad. But he'll know exactly what he's doing at every stage of the competition."

But mostly Henderson hopes his old sparring partner can achieve the greatness he deserves.

"He's done everything in the game so far," says the 32-times capped Henderson of O'Driscoll. "He's scored tries for every team he's played for, he's led his province, his country and the Lions.


"So to lead his country to the final stages, potentially the final, would be a massive boost to him, and also the country and the nation in general. If ever a player is deserving of getting to a final or even winning the thing, then O'Driscoll is that player."

Sadly, Henderson never got the chance. Indeed, his stellar achievements in Irish green and Lions red may not have happened had he followed through on his threat to retire after not making the cut in 1999.

"In '99, I was gutted not to go," he admits. "It's gone for me as a dream, unless I can turn back the clock and reclaim some type of crazy glory, there's no way that it can happen because I'm way too old, fat and knackered.

"The closest I get to a rugby ball is with a pen when someone with a great memory remembers who I am.

"Missing out in 2003 was also hard because I was playing very well before I got injured. It's a huge showcase and it's been a bit of a bugbear for me missing out.

"But I'll be cheering the boys on. The players we have are the best we've ever had and, especially after what happened last time around, it's about time that we delivered in a World Cup scenario."

Irish Independent

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