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Ireland v New Zealand: Ryan facing a tough battle to fend off All Black Henderson

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 19/11/2016

Held back: Iain Henderson will start on the bench against the All Blacks but he has made a big impact on his team-mates
Held back: Iain Henderson will start on the bench against the All Blacks but he has made a big impact on his team-mates

Ireland lock Donnacha Ryan believes the return to fitness of "world-class" Iain Henderson will have both himself and fellow second-rower Devin Toner peering over their shoulders.

Henderson, who will win his 27th cap if he comes off the bench against the All Blacks this evening, had appeared to earn a starting role with his performances at the World Cup a year ago but missed the Six Nations through injury.

He had regained his starting jersey on the tour to South Africa but a shoulder problem kept him out of the historic win over today's opponents in Chicago two weeks ago, delaying his first ever appearance against the All Blacks until Joe Schmidt calls on the replacements today.

In the 24-year-old's absence, Ryan's return from his own injury problems have allowed him to establish an engine-room partnership with Toner.

But with Henderson, and last week's man of the match Ultan Dillane, who is nursing a minor knee issue, applying the pressure, Ryan thinks the depth in the position should see an intense battle for selection moving forward.

"Absolutely," said the Munsterman when asked if the young tyros were breathing down his neck.

"Iain Henderson is world class and Ultan Dillane is going to be an incredible second row long into the future.

"That's great to be able to see him develop and help him in any way you can because he's a very receptive fella.

"It's great. It's good, healthy competition and that's beneficial for Irish rugby going forward."

In the more immediate future, Ryan's focus is on a second game against the All Blacks in as many weeks with the head-to-head battle looking all the tougher with the return of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick.

While the All Blacks' engine room stuttered in Chicago, it is sure to improve with the world-class duo restored to the line-up.

"Brodie and Sam are back and I've played against the two of them before," said the man who was the only starter against New Zealand to feature against Canada a week later.

"When it comes to line out, attack and defence both sides of the ball, obviously we put a bit of pressure on them the last time. Without a doubt they'll look to rectify that.

"They're world class. Brodie has been World Player of the Year.

"We know they're going to be an awful lot better with the personnel coming in. They're going to add massive energy, massive belief to the rest of that squad.

"It's an enormous challenge. We'll have to be on our games this weekend."

Indeed, the squad have repeatedly said that they will need to be even better this weekend to see a repeat of the scenes that met the final whistle in Soldier Field.

"It was great," Ryan added on a victory he was already keen to consign to the past. "It was very enjoyable to see all the fans hanging around after and it was a great experience seeing the family up in the crowd having made the trip over."

And while Ryan's family were nearby, one team-mate had to wait slightly longer to hear congratulations from his nearest and dearest.

Tadhg Furlong revealed this week: "My dad doesn't even have a mobile phone. He actually doesn't, so he has no way to text you. You have to ring the landline.

"'What do I want a mobile phone for?' - that's what he'd say to me. I gave him a call when we got back to the hotel and things had settled down a bit.

"He just said say 'fair play'. He's a man of few words."

And while his 24-year-old son is a more willing talker, he shares a forthright streak.

"I hate getting boxed off as a stereotypical prop who is not allowed to do this, only allowed to do that," Furlong offered bluntly when talking about his game.

"You kind of mark yourself with the rest of them. Loose-heads are always supposed to be more dynamic around the park than tight-heads... I never really got that."

The desire to add more strings to his bow has seen the Wexford native become Ireland's first choice No.3, seeing off the challenge of Mike Ross, a player who boss Schmidt relied heavily upon in the first years of his tenure.

"I've said it before, you look at Rossie and you're struck by how consistent the man is," he said.

"Just his ability to perform well every week in the scrum is second to none.

"He kept on delivering and he's still delivering. As a young fella coming in, Rossie would put his arm around you and bring you up and look at video and go back through the training session with you.

"He's just very good at bringing young lads through and making them feel comfortable and obviously he has a hell of a lot of experience and he has no problems passing that on to younger players.

"It's mad how stuff just travels for you when you get your opportunities. Some of them I haven't taken, some of them I have. It just happens really and you just keep working.

"It's kind of hard to believe you would be in this situation a year ago. But, when I look back now, I know I worked pretty hard.

"You just try to build and build, work hard every day."

Belfast Telegraph

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