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Iain Henderson will be key decision Andy Farrell has to make when selecting Ireland team for France duel

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Iain Henderson is in contention for Ireland against France

Iain Henderson is in contention for Ireland against France

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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Iain Henderson is in contention for Ireland against France

It seems mad that Ireland could arrive at a situation whereby two of their best players cannot get into the team for one of the biggest games of the season, yet here we are.

Ordinarily, the clamour for the fit-again Robbie Henshaw and Iain Henderson to be restored to the start¬ing XV, would have grown much louder by now, but there seems to be a large degree of acceptance that the influen¬tial Lions pair will likely have to make do with a place on the bench for Satur¬day’s showdown in Paris.

If that comes to pass, it will speak volumes for the culture Andy Farrell has created within his squad because as Mack Hansen will attest to, players are no longer picked on reputation, but rather, form.

There is an argument to be made for Henshaw freshening up the back-line or Henderson beefing up the pack, but to drop anyone from the team who performed so well in the win over Wales would be very harsh.

Farrell is paid the big bucks to make these tough selec¬tion calls and while those on the outside would argue against the logic of changing a winning side, the Ireland head coach must take everything into account for what will be a very different kind of challenge in Paris.

Henshaw appears to have a much tougher task on his hands to force his way in, compared to Henderson, who when fit, has been one of Farrell’s two first-choice locks.

The problem Henshaw faces is that Bundee Aki’s form is outstanding and his partnership with Garry Ringrose continues to grow every time the pair line out together. Farrell places huge stock in Aki’s physicality and ability to get over the gain-line, but the Connacht midfielder is no longer being used as a one-dimensional crash-ball merchant.

Aki suffered in the same way Hen¬shaw did over the years in that his role became so confrontational that his skill-set was often overlooked and under-utilised. Aki has always been a good distributor of the ball but too often in the past, that creative element got shunted in favour of trucking the ball up hard and often.

It’s an area of Aki’s game that he has worked hard on as he looks to become a more complete centre.

A niggly adductor injury hampered Henshaw’s progress in training leading up the Wales game, which made a tough decision for Far¬rell that bit more straightfor¬ward.

With Henshaw now back in the mix, however, Farrell faces a major selection headache. The Athlone man was the best Irish player last year, while his form for the Lions was equally as outstanding. Overlooking a midfielder with such capabilities will take a lot of guts.

Henshaw and Aki can, of course, play together, but it seems highly unlikely that Farrell will drop Ringrose, the most natural ‘13’ in the squad, along with James Hume, who could lose his place on the bench.

Selecting Hume in the number 23 jersey last weekend was a curious call because Farrell ran the risk of having to play someone out of position if a winger was forced off early.

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And so it proved, as illness meant two-try Andrew Conway was unable to complete the full 80-minutes, which saw Ringrose finishing on the game on the wing, with Hume coming on in the centre.

Ireland will face a similar conundrum if Henshaw replaces Hume amongst the replacements in that he is limited in terms of his versatility.

That places an even greater impor¬tance on Joey Carbery, who can cover full-back, with Hugo Keenan having played plenty of rugby on the wing.

These are the possible scenarios that will be occupying Farrell’s mind this week, as he weighs making changes or rewarding form.

Apart from one loose offload which led to Wales’ late consolation try, Tadhg Beirne hardly put a foot wrong against Wales.

In the previous regime under Joe Schmidt, that kind of error would have kept the Kiwi up at night, and most likely, would have cost Beirne his place in the team.

Regardless of which way selection goes this week, Farrell will not drop Beirne for such a mistake, but he will give careful consideration to reinstating his go-to second-row pairing.

Being the heavier lock, Farrell values Henderson’s power at scrum time and against a brutish French pack, every kilogram will count.

It’s not all about weight though, and while Beirne’s scrummaging has never let Munster or Ireland down, Farrell will be mindful that France will relish taking this much-talked about Ireland pack down a peg or two.

Henderson is also Ireland’s main line¬out caller, which enhances his chances of being involved from the start with James Ryan, who looked far more like his old aggressive self last weekend.

The one black mark against Ireland in Wales win was the lack of impact the bench made, with Ireland outscored by 7-0 in the final quarter.

There is a fair degree of comfort in having two world-class operators like Henshaw and Henderson to call upon at the Stade de France, which is another factor worth considering.

As headaches go at the start of a cru¬cial week, it’s not the worst place to be, as Farrell decides to stick or twist.


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