Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

RBS 6 Nations: Ulster's fearless warriors played pivotal role

Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry each had a decisive hand in securing the Six Nations crown

It somehow seemed appropriate that Chris Henry was right in the thick of it as Steve Walsh called time when Sebastien Vahaamahina was choke-tackled within striking distance of the Irish line in those frantically tense final moments.

With Sean O'Brien out injured, this campaign was Henry's chance to show what he can offer in his areas of expertise at the close exchanges of the breakdown and how he has risen to the challenge.

There has never been any doubt about his work-rate and this was again shown in Paris as he topped the tackle count with 15 officially recognised hits being made on Les Bleus. But he also carried with vigour and seemed to be a constant presence wherever the ball ended up which is pretty much part of the job desciption.

What hasn't been so well recognised, though, is his skills set, and his back-handed pass which helped carve out Jonathan Sexton's opening try was a marvel of confidence and precision.

It would seem that exposure to Joe Schmidt has further improved Henry's game as indeed has been the case with Andrew Trimble.

The winger's form in this campaign has been revelatory and he has amply demonstrated that he can do so much more at this level than merely kick-chase with accuracy.

And there he was at the Stade de France – probably not one of his favourite venues – putting himself about but then running a nice line off Conor Murray to score Ireland's second.

Indeed, he scampered through at the posts in a way not too dissimilar from a certain Brian O'Driscoll back in 2000 in hat-trick year and the previous win in Paris before Saturday's success.

And then early in the second half he popped up again and burst through in the lead-up to Sexton's second. Yes, he might have backed himself instead of giving O'Driscoll a bit of a man and ball pass, but it was still a fitting way to help Ireland push on at a vital time.

And not forgetting Rory Best. As a hugely experienced player, he knew it was important to lead by example and he did so with some strong scrummaging, lineout throwing and his usual presence at the breakdown.

His tackling was also notable with one chopping down of Maxime Medard defying the fact that this was a hooker stopping a winger. And not only did Best bring Medard to terra firma, he also managed to regain his feet and snap up the bobbling ball before anyone else could react.

Iain Henderson was introduced to the action from the bench just after the hour mark, when he came on for Peter O'Mahony, and he became centrally involved without much in the way of delay.

He was pinged late on as Ireland tried to run down the clock but was on hand in those desperate last minutes as the French came in waves and it was no surprise to find Henderson also involved in the choke-tackle which ended the contest and brought the title to Ireland.

All told, an effort well worth standing up for as we celebrate Ireland's Ulstermen.

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