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Iain Henderson tipped for big Ireland future

By David Kelly

Selection meetings around Carton House appear to be fairly straightforward affairs these days.

Ireland may not be a winning team coming into Saturday's clash with Italy but the manner of defeat at Twickenham has encouraged the management that they are on the right track, and the table reflects that as Joe Schmidt's side continue to lead the way with two games to go.

With John Plumtree yesterday admitting that any changes are likely to be forced by injuries to Peter O'Mahony or Jonathan Sexton, the positions appear fairly locked down.

While outside the camp, the clamour for the inclusion of causes celebres like Simon Zebo rages, you get the sense that the management are satisfied with the charges at their disposal and will stick closely to the 23 who took the field against England, with Eoin Reddan coming in for Isaac Boss.

With Sexton getting through training yesterday, it looks like he will play, and O'Mahony could be given an opportunity to get right for Paris, according to the forwards coach.

"He looked better today," the New Zealander said. "He had a little bit more spring in his step.

"He was a little banged up after England with his shoulders, hamstring and he looked pretty tired. So it is really about making sure he is 100 per cent fit, bearing in mind that we do have a massive game in France as well."

While Robbie Diack was included in the 33-man squad, the decision appears to be a straight shootout between fellow Ulster player Iain Henderson – who replaced O'Mahony in Twickenham – and Rhys Ruddock for the No 6 shirt.

"We were really happy with the way he came off the bench," Plumtree said of Henderson.

"I thought he provided a really nice impact.

"He hasn't played a lot at six for Ulster and I've been really happy with the way Rhys Ruddock has been going at Leinster, so it's a tough choice but that's exactly what we want.

"So we'll look at preference, who starts and who comes off the bench, and who starts and who finishes really. That's something we'll have to really sleep on and get together and talk about it I guess."

Having turned 22 the day before the Twickenham game, Henderson has stated his preference for playing in the back-row over the second-row, and Plumtree has been impressed by the Ulsterman since he took the job.

"If he keeps growing like he is, he's probably going to end up at lock," he said. "He's such a big boy, isn't he? He's got the skill set for a six, it's making sure he's got the work-rate for a six. That's ultimately the difference.

"As a six you can't do five or six good things, in a game you've got to do 15-20 good things because you get more opportunity because you're first off the scrum, and generally if not all the time at line-out time as well, you get put into ball-running positions.

"So I'm pretty excited about Iain Henderson, it's just been a little bit disappointing that he's picked up a couple of injuries that have held him back a little bit. But he's an exciting player, certainly for the future."

Looking ahead to the Italy and France clashes, Plumtree said: "We've just got to make sure now we finish this championship the way we want to."

Belfast Telegraph


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