Six Nations: Quartet can get Ireland off to flier
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has looked north as he aims to get this season's Six Nations championship off to a winning start.
As accurately forecast in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, Schmidt has chosen FOUR Ulster players to play against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin tomorrow (3pm).
Rory Best was always a likely starter, as was his Ravenhill team-mate Chris Henry, but the selection of Andrew Trimble and Luke Marshall has certainly raised some eyebrows.
Trimble gets another chance at this level, coming in for injured Ulster colleague Tommy Bowe on the wing, while Marshall gets his chance ahead of the experienced Gordon D'Arcy.
Schmidt, starting his first Six Nations as coach, admitted that it had been a "very, very close call" between his former Leinster player and Marshall, who will win only his fifth cap.
Henry was a more predictable choice, filling in for injured flanker Sean O'Brien.
Ulster star Henry keen to make up for lost time after missing All Blacks test
Chris Henry was delighted to wave the Ulster flag following the announcement of the Ireland team to play Scotland in tomorrow's RBS Six Nations Championship opener at the Aviva Stadium (3pm).
He, Rory Best, Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble are starters, while Dan Tuohy and Paddy Jackson have made the bench.
Henry made no attempt to conceal or disguise his pleasure at the province's strong representation.
Highlighting Tuohy's inclusion in the match-day 23, Henry pin-pointed coach Joe Schmidt's attention to detail and the importance he attaches to work-rate and reliability.
"Whenever you come into camp Joe will show you what he's looking for. He'll have his attack meeting, his defence meeting and he'll show you your stats," Henry said.
"Dan Tuohy's stats have been incredible. He's a really big carrier for Ulster and when he takes the ball in it takes three people to take him down – and he still gets quick ball."
He applauded the determination and willingness to graft shown by the big lock in earning his place in the 23 entrusted with launching Ireland's title bid.
"I suppose another side is that at times people have thought he doesn't work as hard, but in his game he's shown he's really upped it," Henry said. "Now he's gotten his chance and that's all a player can ask for.
"When he gets his opportunity it's up to him to come off the bench and make an impact.
"I think it's good that Joe has had to make hard decisions and has some headaches. From an Ulster perspective it is great to see those performances rewarded."
He was equally pleased for Trimble, who was ditched from the Six Nations squad at this stage last year by then-coach Declan Kidney. At the time there were many who felt the big Ulster wing had probably played his last game for Ireland. Not so.
"Andrew has been so consistent for us (Ulster) and for him to get back into the team is exciting," Henry enthused, before going on to stress that Ireland's campaign under Schmidt will not be a 23-man affair.
"That's the thing; whoever he picks – and Joe has talked about this – it's a squad effort," Henry said. "The team is not going to be the same every week. People are going to have to fit in and guys are going to have to come off bench and make an impact.
"It's about knowing your role and, when you come on, knowing your job."
The clarity of Schmidt's instructions as to each man's role coupled with the confidence Henry feels as a result of being alongside Ulster colleagues whose game he knows is another. His defence in tandem with Marshall is a case in point.
"I think what we try to do at Ulster is what we are doing here – you try to get off the line quickly and put pressure on the first receiver. We have got to stay connected, that is the big thing, but we want to put pressure on the opposition," he said.
"I think Lukey does that, he comes up, obviously he is a great tackler, but he reads quite well and I know Darce (Gordon D'Arcy) has been fantastic with him. The small talk between them...
"Luke always seems so young and Darce has so much experience but you see Darce beside him giving him wee bits of advice. That is the nature of the squad; whoever gets picked, the extras in the squad are doing whatever they can to make sure that person is right.
"That is one thing I have noticed this week. Lukey is still a very raw talent, but he was learning with the likes of Drico and Darce around him.
Henry's restoration on the open-side flank sees him make his first international appearance since suffering a first-half hamstring tear in the first of Ireland's three November Tests.
"I was loving playing against Samoa, moreso in defence," he said. "I felt like I was getting off the line and making some good hits and imposing myself.
"So it was very disappointing to miss it and have to watch the guys put in an unbelievable performance against New Zealand. To not be part of it was tough, but we're in a good place because of it."
And referring to the positive carry-over from that epic encounter, he noted: "The guys who were involved in that team have learned a lot and their confidence is something I've really noticed.
"When you look around at the players here everyone has a lot of confidence in each other. And I think at this level you need that.
"You need to trust the man beside you and that's where we are at the moment."