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Tuesday 31 May 2016

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

By Michael Sadlier

Published 17/03/2014

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

Brian O'Driscoll with supporters as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Brian O'Driscoll with supporters as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Cian Healy lifts the 6 nations trophy as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland.
Jonathan Sexton poses with supporters as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. .
Brian O'Driscoll poses for a selfie with Jack and Megan O'Donnell, from Co. Meath, as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell lifts the trophy while head coach Joe Schmidt (left) looks on as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell lifts the trophy while head coach Joe Schmidt (left) looks on as the Ireland team arrive at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Pic Brian Lawless
Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll (left) celebrates with team mate Fergus McFadden on the final whistle after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland and Dean Kearney of Ireland celebrate with the trophy after winning the six nations championship with a 22-20 victory over France during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll afterthe Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland celebrate winning the Six Nations at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll celebrates after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Dave Kearney (left) celebrate after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll afterthe Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Paul O'Connell lifts the 6 Nations trophy after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll after the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland celebrates after winning the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France.
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland and team mates celebrate with the Six Nations Championship trophy during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll (C) of Ireland celebrates with his team-mates as they lift the trophy after winning the six nations championship with a 22-20 victory over France during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland and Brian O'Driscoll celebrate with the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland and Brian O'Driscoll celebrate with the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Captain, Paul O'Connell of Ireland celebrates with the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland with Shane Horgan (L) and Ronan O'Gara after winning the Six Nations Championship during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland and team mates celebrate with the Six Nations Championship trophy during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland celebrates with the Six Nations Championship trophy during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland fans show their support outside of the stadium before the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
An Ireland fan is seen during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
A general view during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during the National Anthems before the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland during the national anthem the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland smiles before the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland looks on before the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
France fans show their support during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland fans show their support during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Francois Hollande, President of France with Albert II, Prince of Monaco during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton dives in to score a try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Jonny Sexton of Ireland scores the first try during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll is tackled by France's Remi Tales during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Andrew Trimble dives in to score his side's second try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Dave Kearney of Ireland is tackled during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip of Ireland makes a break during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip of Ireland makes a break during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Jonny Sexton of Ireland looks on before a kick during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland runs at the french defence during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Brice Dulin of France score a try for France during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland applies an ice pack to his face during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 15: Jonny Sexton goes to kick during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton runs in to score his second and his side's third try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton (right) celebrates with team mate Jamie Heaslip (left) after he scores his second and their side's third try during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland applies an ice pack to his face during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Ireland at Stade de France on March 15, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton carried off during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton is stretchered off during the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France.

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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