Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

RBS 6 Nations: Brian O'Driscoll's last tango in Paris

Brian O'Driscoll sets up yet another attack against Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday

With the racket outside even permeating the room under the stand you could have been forgiven for thinking that the Brian O'Driscoll tribute was still rumbling away around the ground.

Instead, though things had moved on from all the emotion poured out for O'Driscoll's last Ireland appearance in Dublin, Chris Henry now found himself having to up his game off the field to compete with the noise levels as Ireland Women were in the process of racking up their own big win over their Italian counterparts.

Still, it had been a good day for the 29-year-old flanker with Ireland's 46-7 thumping of Italy giving them an eye-catching points differential advantage at the top of the table and a Six Nations title seemingly beckoning if all goes well in Paris.

And what a way that would be to bring down the curtain on O'Driscoll's Ireland career, a win in France at the place where it all really began for him 14 years ago when the, then, fresh-faced and baggy-shirted outside centre grabbed his famous hat-trick of tries.

A fitting finale indeed as Joe Schmidt plots what will hopefully be Ireland's first win in the French capital since that day back in 2000 and an occasion which will also be Henry's first taste of on-field action at the Stade de France.

"For me, what a perfect way to end with Brian's last game to actually go and win something," Henry said.

"(Beating Italy) It was brilliant and special but next week it's all there for us and I think Brian will be saying that when it comes to Saturday the most important thing is getting the win.

"It's going to be very hard," Henry admitted, "but if we play the way we can we have the ability to beat any team and we've got to have that in our psyche for us to finish off this Championship.

"We've talked about it in the changing room, 'we haven't won anything'," Henry added.

Still, the subject matter regarding O'Driscoll was understandably hard to shake-off and the Ulsterman – who was taken off with seven minutes of normal time remaining – was keen to explain what it felt like to be part of what was an emotion-laden game in which the legendary centre produced another masterclass from his box of handling tricks.

No-one could be in doubt that after playing his part in creating three of Ireland's tries, the man of the match accolade could go to only one man and all this on a day when O'Driscoll became the world's most capped player,

"Whenever he came off after 60 minutes, well, I've never heard noise like it," Henry said.

"Anyone who was playing was very lucky and it was something you'll definitely remember for a long time, being able to play with Brian on his last game here.

"I think that Brian's last game at home was a massive factor," Henry added over the manner in which Ireland delivered their seven-try victory.

"We wanted to make sure we put in a big performance for him and what a special day that was.

"It (his last game in Dublin for Ireland) wasn't talked about in the build-up and I think Brian wouldn't have let it be talked about.

"For us it was all about getting the result and getting the performance," he added, while gradually moving away from matters O'Driscoll.

Henry topped Ireland's tackle count with 12 and apart from one high profile loss of possession to winger Angelo Esposito near the Italian line, played with notable authority.

"I suppose it was nice to top the tackle count but the result was the most important thing," he said after a game in which Ireland brought pace and positivity to their play.

"It was great we were able to play so much attacking rugby and then the bench really made a massive difference which they've shown throughout the tournament.

"So, lots of positives but a lot of work-ons as usual," he added doubtless referring to Joe Schmidt's ever-critical eye.

"I think whenever you try to attack and be as positive as that you make mistakes, but overall we're relatively happy."

Henry rightly identified Andrew Trimble's 37th minute try as helping unlock the game for Ireland and, indeed, the genesis of this score came from the flanker winning a penalty on the deck back in the Irish 22.

"They are Championship minutes as Joe talks about. Then (at end of first half) and the start of the second half we tried to up the ante and tried to up the pace and I think we definitely did that," added Henry while also nodding in the direction of Cian Healy's 52nd minute touchdown as effectively ending the contest.

Fellow flanker Iain Henderson was also worthy of mention as Henry described how much the 22-year-old brings to any game.

"I think he was disappointed with a few of his carries but, overall, what a talent this guy has.

"There's plenty more to come from him. I love playing with Iain. He creates things from nothing, he's so dynamic and what a massive future he has in front of him," said Henry.

Let's hope that observation also applies to this Ireland side and, in particular, to what is on offer on Saturday.

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