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Aki has earned centre jersey, so Robbie has to go to 15: O'Driscoll


Robbie Henshaw
Robbie Henshaw
David Kelly

By David Kelly

There comes a time when everyone feels the heat under Joe Schmidt. Even Brian O'Driscoll knows the sensation, though for Leinster not Ireland.

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No matter. Everybody knows that nobody is safe. In this last year of the Schmidt era as much as its first year. Because after this last year, there will be no next one. Every letter must be in order before that full-stop.

Assumptions and presumptions will be challenged. The tried and trusted will feel less comforted; the established ones will be prompted to shift nervously; bolters will blink giddily at new opportunity.

And so Ireland's most decorated player, Rob Kearney, may not find a role this week. Robbie Henshaw is fit but so are Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose.

So, it looks like Kearney might be set aside and Henshaw installed as gate-keeper.

Many pick themselves but then ask Jack McGrath or Devin Toner how much certainty really exists there.

To keep the jersey you must own the performance.

Which is why O'Driscoll believes Aki will retain his.

"Bundee has never played badly for Ireland," said the man who redefined the modern midfielder.

"On the basis of Robbie only having one game since November, Joe probably starts with Bundee and Garry.

"It's first up but also because of game-time played. Bundee and Garry were the pairing that finished off the All Blacks game, finished England in Twickenham.

"It's pretty difficult to drop Bundee right now. It really is.

"Garry has obviously been playing very well and Robbie did well in his 60 minutes. He is the sort of guy that could be thrown into that environment, no problem.

"All things being equal, you've probably got to go with the guys that are in possession of the jersey.

"Robbie is a decent bench player because he can play at 15 too.

"The only thing is who goes to the wing if a winger gets injured? I'm not sure. But then, Will Addison is also a great bench player.

"It will be interesting to see what happens in that 23 jersey, whether they put in the replacement centre, or Addison or Jordan Larmour.

"All of a sudden, it's really hotting up where you are going to have serious quality players with versatility being left out."

Kearney's injury timing could not have been more unfortunate and, with other players like Jonathan Sexton ring-rusty, Schmidt can't afford to take many risks.

"That's the thing about injury. Everyone gets an opportunity for some reason, be it lack of form, injury," O'Driscoll said.

"Any time Rob is asked, he has always delivered. When we write off Rob, he produces another big performance.

He is a big-game player, irrespective of what form he has shown going into tournaments or big Test matches. But I'm intrigued to see whether Rob plays five games, or does he try something else?

"He has struggled a little bit with injury. He had a great run of form up to that. Do you try and test new partnerships out as well? Do you potentially play three of the centres at one time?

"We all know Robbie can play full-back."

And we may see it sooner than we thought.

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