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The Great Debate: Who should take centre stage in Six Nations showdown with Wales?

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(l-r) Robbie Henshaw and Will Addison are both in contention for a central role against Wales on Saturday

(l-r) Robbie Henshaw and Will Addison are both in contention for a central role against Wales on Saturday

(l-r) Robbie Henshaw and Will Addison are both in contention for a central role against Wales on Saturday

Cian Tracey and Rúaidhrí O'Connor make cases for Robbie Henshaw and Will Addison respectively to replace Garry Ringrose in midfield for Saturday's Six Nations clash with Wales at the Aviva Stadium.

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Cian Tracey: 'Henshaw is still a classy operator, which shouldn't be forgotten'

Last weekend's win over Scotland didn't exactly signal the dawning of a new era with a plethora of fresh faces staking their Ireland claims on the international stage. Instead, it was more of a case of the old guard silencing their doubters.

CJ Stander did so in barnstorming fashion, while Peter O’Mahony also had a good game, despite what the naysayers will have you believe.

On one hand, it was pleasing to see the experienced players return to form, but, on the other, it was difficult to get away from the fact that most people left the Aviva on Saturday not feeling like they had witnessed the start of an exciting new time for Irish rugby.

It was foolish to have expected a drastically different game-plan after five training sessions under a new head coach – just like it was silly to write off players who have so often delivered for Ireland in big games down through the years.

The challenge facing Andy Farrell throughout the Six Nations is blooding new players and combinations, while not discarding the good work that has gone before.

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Robbie Henshaw, following last Saturday's win over Scotland. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Robbie Henshaw, following last Saturday's win over Scotland. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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Robbie Henshaw, following last Saturday's win over Scotland. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Robbie Henshaw hasn’t received anything like the same level of criticism that Stander and O’Mahony have gotten from armchair pundits in recent months, but the calls for more of a playmaker to replace the injured Garry Ringrose are growing louder.

By his own high standards, Henshaw has not been firing on all cylinders this season, yet he need only look at the performance that Stander produced in the win over Scotland to know how quickly the mood music can change.

The Athlone native had a decent game without setting the world alight when he replaced Ringrose at half-time, which is perhaps why some people want to see Will Addison, Chris Farrell or Stuart McCloskey get a chance this weekend.

As impressive as Addison has been, he has started all eight of his Ulster games this season at full-back. Farrell hasn’t exactly been tearing up trees with Munster, while McCloskey wasn’t even included in the original Six Nations squad.

Henshaw has by no means been stinking up the joint to not merit a chance to play his way back into top form with a start against Wales on Saturday.

The 26-year-old has an excellent understanding with Bundee Aki going back to their time at Connacht together, so it really wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them rekindle that.

Henshaw hates when he gets pigeon-holed as a crash-ball 12 because he has always had more strings to his bow.

He hasn’t had the chance to showcase that often enough as he has been asked to perform a particular role, but if given the 13 jersey, he can prove that he can be dangerous in the wider channels.

Outside centre is something of a problem position for Wales right now with Jonathan Davies currently sidelined through injury.

The George North experiment went totally untested against Italy and if he does get a start there again in Dublin, there is no doubt that Andy Farrell will look to target him.

Nick Tompkins could well come into the Wales team after impressing off the bench on his debut last week, but even if the Saracens midfielder is handed his first start, his inexperience at international level is something that Henshaw can definitely exploit.

With Aki inside him doing a lot of the heavy lifting, this would be an ideal opportunity for Henshaw to thrive in a more fluid role.

An excellent defender who so often sets the tone for Leinster, it’s easy to forget that Henshaw can also a offer strong attacking threat.

Although we haven’t seen enough of that over the last few months, it doesn’t mean that he is suddenly not capable of delivering in that regard.

A hamstring injury pretty much ruined his World Cup and who knows if he is still working his way back to full fitness after busting a gut to feature in the latter stages in Japan.

When you think back to some of Ireland’s great days, Henshaw was a central figure and would have won more than 41 caps but for several unfortunately injury setbacks.

People are too quick to disregard some of the good things that have gone in the past and while everyone wants to see new blood introduced, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Henshaw is a classy operator who can deliver when it matters most.

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Addison’s quick feet, elusive running lines, excellent decisionmaking and good passing make him the perfect attacking foil for Aki. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Addison’s quick feet, elusive running lines, excellent decisionmaking and good passing make him the perfect attacking foil for Aki. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

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Addison’s quick feet, elusive running lines, excellent decisionmaking and good passing make him the perfect attacking foil for Aki. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'Will Addison is the natural fit to replace Garry Ringrose'

Wales kept Ireland scoreless for 83 minutes in Cardiff last season despite the visitors having the ball for 60 per cent of the game and spending 62 per cent of the game in the Welsh half.

For phase after phase, they ran into brick walls with no reward on one of the most frustrating outings of the Joe Schmidt era.

Garry Ringrose partnered Bundee Aki that day, but even the Leinster star could only manage eight metres from six carries. Aki made seven metres from nine carries.

That game was played in driving rain and Wales have since changed defence coach, but their personnel and strategy won’t have changed too much.

Ireland must find ways through and around the red wall if they are to make it two wins from two against Saturday’s visitors who kept Italy to nil last weekend.

Despite last year’s struggle, Ringrose has become Johnny Sexton’s eyes and ears in the outside backs, a player with real vision.

He’ll miss Saturday’s game through injury and Andy Farrell has three options to choose from.

Robbie Henshaw is the obvious call, given he came off the bench against the Scots and has played at outside centre on a number of occasions for Ireland.

Chris Farrell is Munster’s starting No 13 and a physical attacker with soft hands. He’s been good every time he’s played for Ireland.

However, the most like-for-like replacement for Ringrose is Will Addison. If Ireland want to play a more heads-up style, the English-born, Ulster man is the closest thing they have to Ringrose.

He is the least experienced of the trio, the only one who didn’t go to the World Cup and he’s played all of his rugby this season at full-back with Luke Marshall Ulster's preferred outside centre.

On Saturday, Ireland looked to play with width and vary their attack. Although they did go to the box-kick when they needed to gain territory, there was a real will to test the Scots.

Pairing Aki and Henshaw offers continuity. They played together seven times at Test level under Schmidt, while they established a good working relationship alongside each other during their successful time together at Connacht.

Physically, they won't let Ireland down but there is a sameness to their style of play that could limit the way Ireland go about their task.

Without Jon Davies, Wales will have a less than established partnership on Saturday. Hadleigh Parkes is a quality operator, but last weekend he was paired with George North who never looks too comfortable in the No 13 channel.

Saracens centre Nick Tompkins impressed on debut when he came on against Italy and is a quality player, but again he is new to the system and should be tested.

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Garry Ringrose attempts to get away from the Scotland defence before being forced off through injury. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Garry Ringrose attempts to get away from the Scotland defence before being forced off through injury. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

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Garry Ringrose attempts to get away from the Scotland defence before being forced off through injury. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Addison’s quick feet, elusive running lines, excellent decision-making and good passing make him the perfect attacking foil for Aki.

Henshaw offers a more direct route to the line. Defensively, the pairing with Aki would offer strong resistance to what Wales bring and there appear to be some question marks over Addison’s robustness.

Indeed, one of the reasons Farrell outlined for his absence from the team to face Scotland was that he hadn’t been able to train in the team’s camp in Portugal.

However, when he has been fit to play for Ulster this season he has been outstanding.

John Cooney and Stuart McCloskey have often hogged the headlines, but the former Sale man has been able to add something extra to their attack.

His ball skills and versatility are such that Joe Schmidt trusted him to cover out-half in the World Cup warm-up win in Cardiff last August.

Coming a week after the Twickenham disaster, that day was a more pressurised game than any pre-tournament fixture should be but Addison’s ability to come back from injury and hit the ground running was key to a morale-boosting win.

Again, he was operating at full-back but his footballing ability and game-breaking running threat shone through.

Henshaw will not let Ireland down if, as expected, he’s picked on Saturday and perhaps there is sense in unleashing Addison off the bench to change things up during the game.

But if Ireland want to develop their game and present more threats to that stingy Welsh defence, Addison should wear the No 13 jersey.

Online Editors