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Anscombe: Ireland’s call must now come for Henry

By Niall Crozier

Mark Anscombe says Ulster flanker Chris Henry must start for Ireland against South Africa on November 10.

The Ulster coach insists that with Henry being the form player and the best Irish number seven in the frame at the moment, he has earned the right to a starting place against the Springboks at the Aviva Stadium 19 days from now.

With Leinster’s Sean O’Brien injured and unavailable for the foreseeable future, on-song Henry is the logical replacement, Anscombe insists. In his opinion, Henry is playing better than any rival for the job.

Anscombe (pictured) lauded the flanker after witnessing another top-notch performance against Glasgow on Friday night, two days after Henry celebrated his 28th birthday.

Following that Scotstoun victory, New Zealander Anscombe — himself a flanker in his playing days — said: “I thought Chris Henry was outstanding once again tonight.”

And as the Kiwi saw it, that completed a hat-trick of first-class performances at number seven, Henry also having excelled against Connacht in the PRO12 inter-pro and Castres Olympique in Ulster’s opening Heineken Cup game.

“That’s three in a row and I’ll be disappointed if he’s not in the green jersey in a couple of weeks time,” Anscombe said.

“He has shown enough to justify an opportunity to run out against South Africa, there’s no doubt about that.

“I think he has matured and he’s ready. He is in great form at the minute and I believe that if he got that opportunity he really could show that he has got something to offer.”

Although Henry does have two senior level international caps to his credit, both were won away from home against southern hemisphere opponents.

Neither was a particularly happy occasion.

On June 26, 2010, Henry started in the summer tour friendly against Australia in Brisbane, where the visitors went down 22-15.

He lined out at number eight on that occasion, and had the misfortune to gift the Wallabies a try when he was caught out by the sheer speed of international football, Luke Burgess scoring when a Henry pass from an attempted blind-side move off a scrum was gobbled up.

Henry had to wait two years for a second senior international cap and when finally it came — June 23, 2012 — once more the circumstances were far from ideal.

On that occasion he was introduced for the final 25 minutes of Ireland’s Hamilton humiliation by the All Blacks who subjected their guests to a record 60-0 hammering.

But with Anscombe now leading the chorus for Henry to play on Ireland’s open-side flank — the position in which he was forced to re-invent himself when South African Pedrie Wannenburg arrived to fill Ulster’s number eight shirt — Declan Kidney may just be willing to listen.

Henry has come right through the Irish system, ticking each box along the way. Capped at under-21 level, he got himself an Ulster Academy contract which was duly upgraded to a development deal.

He made his Ulster senior debut in 2008-9 and at the end of that season was picked — by Kidney — for Ireland’s Churchill Cup-winning squad.

Henry then captained Ireland ‘A’ — rebranded as Ireland Wolfhounds — the following season, during which he also acted as Ulster skipper in the injury-enforced absence of Rory Best.

All told, 2009-10 was a memorable campaign for Henry, culminating in him scooping Ulster Rugby’s three top prizes — Player of the Year, Personality of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Season en route to Australia and that first cap.

“He’s playing great rugby at the moment. “Yeah, he’s ready,” Anscombe insisted.

Three rivals coming up on the flanks

Shane Jennings

Leinster

The 31-year-old is a natural number seven whose CV includes 13 Ireland caps to date. But for the rise of Leinster colleague Sean O’Brien, the total would have been greater.

Jennings’ international aspirations suffered a blow at the start of 2009-10 when he was banned for 12 weeks after being found guilty of gouging. He came back though and then when David Wallace was injured prior to the 2011 World Cup, Jennings was the man who got the late call.

Biggest asset: His well-established working relationship with Ireland’s fellow-Leinster players.

Kevin McLaughlin

Leinster

He came to prominence in 2009/10 when he made 24 Magners League appearances and eight in the Heineken Cup, with his contribution to Leinster’s cause in Europe including a brace of tries against Brive.

Although injuries curtailed his appearances in 2010/11, his 15 outings included a Heineken Cup final start against Northampton. Last season he played 26 times for Leinster. A place on Ireland’s flight to New Zealand was the reward.

Biggest asset: His versatility; can play anywhere in the back row — and at lock.

Peter O’Mahony

Munster

He burst on to the international stage in a big way last season when he won all seven of his Irish caps to date.

Although not a natural seven he is adaptable. Captained Munster a few days before his 22nd birthday. To be entrusted with that responsibility says much for him.

Last season he played in four of Ireland’s five Six Nations matches and in all three of the June tests in New Zealand.

He is regarded as bringing a lot to the table.

Biggest asset: Recent international experience could weigh in his favour

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