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Rugby World Cup: Ulster star Iain Henderson admits Paul O'Connell is a big loss

By Jonathan Bradley

Iain Henderson is ready to step into the shoes of Paul O'Connell in next week's World Cup quarter-final against Argentina with the Ireland captain expected to miss the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury picked up in yesterday's emphatic win over France.

Ireland sealed top spot in Pool D at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff but are counting the cost after injuries to O'Connell, Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony.

O'Connell is the most serious, with more news expected this morning, but Henderson said: "We don't know what's going to happen there but if there's an opportunity there I'll definitely try to rise to it.

"Obviously to try and fill Paul O'Connell's boots would nigh-on impossible, he's been absolutely sensational for Ireland over these past years.

"I think if someone tried to come in and do what he did better, you'd be silly - you've got to try and create your own profile.

"He's off for a scan now, obviously it didn't look good there but fingers crossed."

Henderson has spoken effusively of O'Connell in recent weeks, starting alongside him against Canada and Italy, and it would be a sad end to the Ireland career of someone who has provided the Ulster youngster with considerable inspiration.

"I started off playing against him and he's an absolutely nightmare to play against, a brilliant lineout forward and his work is phenomenal," said Henderson. "Coming in here, I started to train with him and I've learned massive amounts about how professional he is and to be able to play alongside him, it's just fantastic.

"He drives us around the pitch and his workrate inspires you to push yourself harder and further than you think you can potentially go."

The injury to O'Connell saw Henderson emerge from the bench earlier than expected and the 23-year-old admitted that going back to the role of impact sub was initially jarring.

"I had an idea early enough in the week and that gave me time to get right and get my head around things," he said.

"I was happy enough once Joe had said it to me, just to get my detail right because I knew I'd be getting game time off the bench, given how important contributions have been off the bench, it was good for me to get that under my belt and make sure I can make an impact off the bench as well as when I'm starting.

"Coming off the bench is difficult at the best of times to try and get up to speed of the game.

"Half time was obviously earlier than I thought it was going to be.

"We'd spoken earlier in the week and Joe (Schmidt) said it to the subs that you know when you come on that you have to fit in immediately and add something to the game.

"From my point of view, I was just trying to add something to the game and try and get the ball in my hands, even though I managed to knock it on a couple of times. I was trying to make an impact defensively as well." Henderson did just that, making a key lineout steal as well as providing impetus from the engine room and he will be expected to do similar against the Pumas on Sunday.

Should Ireland be missing the likes of O'Connell, as well as Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony, then Henderson expects their replacements to show the depth in the squad.

"As we saw out there, not just the starting team but the whole bench out there, we understand that the tournament can't be won with only a match day XV," he said.

"It's just going to take 23 but a whole squad. You need a fully capable squad to win a tournament.

"You mightn't get as much opportunity on the training field as you would like, but it's fantastic to see lads putting their hands up when they get an opportunity off the bench when there might be something going wrong that they can, they want to fit in first and then put their hand up to be able to say, 'I'm ready to start here'," he added.

"We got our initial target of topping our group, now we have to look forward to Argentina this weekend."

The 24-9 victory over France ensures Ireland avoid a quarter-final encounter with New Zealand. Argentina now await in the last eight.

Topping Pool D means Schmidt's side avoid the world champions but the injuries to three such influential members of the Irish team will be a massive concern for the rest of the campaign.

Belfast Telegraph

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