Thursday 22 August 2019

Fears growing over Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong's fitness ahead of Joe Schmidt's team announcement

Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson
Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson
Bernard Jackman Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Iain Henderson could join Tadhg Furlong in missing out on selection for Ireland's key Six Nations game against Wales as Joe Schmidt continues to count the cost of the win over Italy.

The influential Ulster second-row damaged his hamstring in the first half of the game two weeks ago and, like Furlong, he has not yet trained fully.

Already without Robbie Henshaw, who suffered a serious shoulder injury and with Furlong set to be sidelined for Saturday's game, the news that a third Lion is losing his race to be fit is a significant blow to the side, just days after Warren Gatland recalled a trio of senior men for the clash.

With Chris Farrell set for his first Six Nations start in the centre alongside Bundee Aki, Schmidt will deploy inexperienced tighthead Andrew Porter in the front-row and pair Devin Toner with James Ryan in the engine room.

With the relatively inexperienced Dan Leavy in the back-row and rookie winger Jacob Stockdale - who yesterday penned a new deal with Ulster - in the back-three, it means that half-back is the only department in which Ireland have a full complement of experienced operators.

While he has picked a youthful squad for the tournament, Schmidt would have preferred to have eased the new faces in and is likely to be concerned ahead of the fixture.

Having signed the then relatively unknown Farrell for Grenoble in 2014, former Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman is confident Farrell can thrive.

Jackman pointed to a performance against Clermont in 2015 as the moment he realised the 24-year-old was able to cope at the top level.

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Having joined Munster at the start of the season and made his debut in November, he faces the biggest game of his career at Lansdowne Road.

"He would have been up against (Wesley) Fofana. We went 15-0 down, French teams away from home, particularly somewhere like Clermont, tend to go into their shells a bit and end up getting thumped," Jackman said of the game.

"Chris just kept wanting the ball, going at them and at them and at them. It was a real positive, because he hadn't come with a pedigree. He was really good up to (a level) with Irish Youths, everyone was talking about him and he disappeared for two years.

"He had a lot of bad injuries and Ulster had a load of centres (blocking him). He said, 'I want to get away' and he came over and just get on with it.

"Generally with him, and this is what you want with players, when things are going bad they go looking to have moments. The ones you don't want are the ones who, when things are going bad, they go hiding.

"He's the positive side of that and as you go up the levels, that's what you want. He has that character to do it.

"So, he's a very friendly, amicable guy off the field and when he gets on it he changes a bit.

"He's a Test match animal-type personality, when he crosses the white line he changes, which is perfect. I wouldn't see the pressure getting to him."

Porter is set to start in place of the injured Furlong at tighthead prop and while he impressed against Italy during the 77 minutes he spent on the pitch, Jackman admits that he faces a big step up against a formidable Welsh scrum.

"It's a massive test," the Dragons coach said at an event to promote Currency Fair. "But everything we've seen so far, he's stepped up.

"He's obviously ridiculously strong but it's not just about strength. It's about being able to work things out. If you listen to Tadhg Furlong, a lot of it is stuff you can't see, it's the feel. If you haven't felt it before, it's hard to know how to react to it."

Warren Gatland has once again selected the all-Scarlets front-row for the game after they troubled England and it would be remiss of them not to at last try to go after a player who has just five professional starts in the position behind him.

"I don't think he's played against the Scarlets front-row before. Rob Evans has improved a lot and they've got really good harmony between the three of them," Jackman said.

"He's lucky if he plays that he's got Rory Best and a world-class loosehead, no matter who that is. But it is a pretty hard game to play with a certain amount of experience.

"I rate him massively, but his ability to pin down that scrum will be a key factor in the game. If he pins it down, that's an area of potential advantage that Ireland have negated and away you go. It is something where there will be massive pressure on his shoulders but he's stepped up to every challenge so far. This is his biggest."

Possible Ireland team v Wales -

R Kearney; K Earls, C Farrell, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), A Porter; James Ryan, I Henderson/D Toner; P O'Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander.

Reps: S Cronin, J McGrath, John Ryan, D Toner/Q Roux, J Conan, K Marmion, J Carbery, F McFadden.

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