Ireland v France Six Nations: It’s time for Rory Best and Iain Henderson to roar
With Ireland taking on France in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, the Six Nations clash will have huge bearing on the Lions hopes of Rory Best and Iain Henderson, according to their old team-mate Stephen Ferris.
Warren Gatland will name his travelling party in April for the tour of New Zealand, and with Ulster already out of the Champions Cup, the ongoing championship provides a last real chance for those from the province to stake a claim for the ultimate honour.
Best and Henderson have always seemed the men most likely from Kingspan Stadium, but both missed out on Ireland’s commanding win over Italy last time out.
While skipper Best was struck down with a stomach complaint when already in Rome, Henderson was not risked after a minor hamstring issue.
The duo are both expected to be back when Schmidt this afternoon names his team to take on Les Blues.
And for Ferris, who was a Lion in 2009 but picked up an injury before the Test series with South Africa, the pair will be looking for big performances to catch Gatland’s eye.
“It’s huge for them,” said the flanker forced to retire in 2014 due to an ankle injury.
“Rory Best is one of the outstanding hookers in the British and Irish set-up.
“People have talked about him possibly being captain because he had such a good November but, the way it’s going, it looks like it’ll be Alun Wyn Jones, and I think Rory would just be delighted to get onto the tour.
“He’s been on a Lions tour before and he has that experience.
“When he was in Australia four years ago, he probably didn’t play his best rugby, and I’m sure if he had another shot at it, he would definitely turn it up a couple of notches.”
Henderson, who can play at lock or flanker, has long been tipped as a potential tourist in this part of the world, but is vying for a spot in one of the side’s most competitive areas.
Ferris cites consistency as one area the man who turned 25 this week must improve upon if he is to fulfil his considerable promise and he is certainly one who needs to make an impact in the coming weeks with Joe Schmidt having been switching between the Ulsterman and Donnacha Ryan for recent Tests.
“Iain Henderson played some amazing stuff in the European Cup but Ulster weren’t winning,” said the popular pundit.
“We all know what Hendy is capable of but we need to see it with a little bit more consistency. That first game in Scotland, some people got on his back. I thought he had a good game but we all expect so much from him.
“With him being versatile, being able to play back-row and second-row, that might really work in his favour but it’s amazing how a few months can change people’s opinions.
“Two months ago, people were saying Iain Henderson was a dead cert.
“He has an okay to good game against Scotland, then doesn’t play the following week, and Ireland have a romp against Italy, and now he’s not being talked about as much. It’s a huge couple of weeks for him, it really is.
“He needs to be back starting in Ireland games and he needs a few big performances.
“Hopefully the Ulster side of things will look after itself between now and the end of the season.”
And while it would certainly rank as a surprise to see any other Ulstermen in red this summer, Ferris is of the opinion that a strong run from any of those showcased in the Six Nations could see them come into the reckoning.
“Hendy and Rory are the obvious ones, and the most likely of course, but you never know,” he added.
“Paddy Jackson, if he starts against France, he plays very well, and Ireland get a good victory, he gives Gatland something to think about. You’ve got (Owen) Farrell, (Johnny) Sexton, (George) Ford and (Dan) Biggar playing well in his position so it’ll be tough.
“The other is Andrew Trimble, he’s struggled with injury the last couple of months, and form a bit.
“If he can get himself into the mix over the next few weeks, he has a chance.”
He added: “Even someone like Craig Gilroy could make it as a midweek player, a real attacking threat.”