Wednesday 17 January 2018

Impact sub Henry sets sights on starting role

Chris Henry is pushing hard for a starting spot in the Ireland back-row
Chris Henry is pushing hard for a starting spot in the Ireland back-row
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Chris Henry isn't used to being an impact substitute, but it's a role that he has had to adjust to for Ireland.

Throughout his nine-year career, the Ulster openside flanker has by and large been a first choice player for his province, and his performances from the bench in the tournament thus far would suggest that he is pushing Sean O'Brien harder than many think.

That Henry is even playing at the World Cup is a minor miracle in itself following his health scare in which he suffered a temporary blockage of a small blood vessel in his brain last November - he has made a remarkable recovery.

Those dark days are firmly behind him and as he explained, his sole focus right now is on how he can best help Ireland in his unfamiliar role.

"I'm starting to learn that the bench is very different. I haven't played much rugby on the bench and it's certainly something that I've had to work on," the 30-year-old said.


"I'm not wasting a lot of nervous energy in the lead-up to it and making sure that I have the right adrenalin focus when I come on.

"Something that's talked about a lot is fitting in first whenever you come off the bench. I think everyone on the bench who has come on has done a reasonably good job.

"We've tried to make an impact and no doubt as these games continue you will see that so many of these close games are won at the end, and it's usually to do with someone who has come off the bench who has created something for the team because they are a bit fresher."

Given that Sunday's pool decider against France will be hugely physical, Henry knows that the bench will have a major role to play.

Speaking with the Ulster player, it seems as if he considers himself to be in bonus territory after his nightmare last year but there is certainly no suggestion that he is here to merely make up the numbers.

"I know I'm up against an extremely experienced and talented back-row," Henry said.

"I'd like to think that for Joe (Schmidt), it's causing headaches, but, unfortunately as players, we can't let ourselves think about that (selection) too much.

"Joe doesn't really get things wrong too often and whoever he thinks is the right person to take the field, he usually gets it right."

Henry is the only naturally recognised openside flanker in the Ireland squad but he insists that O'Brien can do an effective job from both sides of the scrum.

"People say Sean's not a specialist seven, I think he can play anywhere. I think he does a lot of work that you probably don't see just as much.

"Last week, for example, he was in the jackal position an awful lot. He probably didn't get a clean turnover but he was causing an extra one, two seconds that slowed them up. I'm sure he knows (there's) plenty to work on in his game, but I think lots of aspects of my game are improving.

"Maybe, before, I didn't get the ball in my hand maybe as much but it's something I'm trying to work on with carrying the ball a bit more.

"But Joe has lots of options, and if I can try and cause a headache, that's all I can do."

Australia's approach at the World Cup has been to deploy two specialist opensides in their back-row but Henry maintains that it is a case of fitting both David Pocock and Michael Hooper into the same team.

"I don't think any teams will be replicating it just because it works for Australia," he maintained.

"From my position, it would be great if they wanted to get more sevens on the pitch!

"Look, those two guys are freaks the way they're playing at the moment and the way they get on the ball and the damage they do at the breakdown."

France's back-row isn't too shabby either with Thierry Dusautoir, Bernard La Roux and Louis expected to start against Ireland.

"This French back-row is up there with the best of them. It's very well-balanced. Picamoles pulls out a bit of X-Factor, he's a brute," Henry said.

"We have to get stuck into them because with the balance of the back-row, whoever gets the upper hand will probably have a big part to play in the result."

Irish Independent

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