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Chris Henry: Joe Schmidt faces a hard call with Ireland's back row at the World Cup

Team debate: Josh van der Flier should be a certain starter.
Team debate: Josh van der Flier should be a certain starter.
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

My Ireland debut came in Jamie Heaslip's number 8 jersey after he'd been sent off against the All Blacks the week before. Irish Rugby's Mr Indestructible famously didn't miss many games so thereafter almost all of my starts in the green jersey came with Jamie packing down next to me.

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He wasn't someone that people placed in the same bracket as Paul O'Connell or Brian O'Driscoll but he was similar to those guys in the sense that he never had a bad game - one of the first names on the teamsheet and a player you knew was going to perform.

Whenever we played Leinster, it wasn't a case of sitting there thinking, we have to gameplan for Jamie at the breakdown, or pay extra attention to what he's doing in the attack or anything like that, but the reason it felt he didn't have a speciality was because he excelled at everything a back rower needs to do.

It's easy to forget now because he's been retired for the better part of two and a half years, but he's younger than Rory Best and not much older than Johnny Sexton - he's sat in the commentary box at the Aviva Stadium now - but it's not outlandish to think that when this World Cup cycle began that Joe Schmidt will have believed there was a chance he'd be taking him to Japan tomorrow.

That would have made his one real selection debate somewhat easier. When you've a player who can do everything, balance in the back row becomes a lot easier.

We saw Jack Conan and CJ Stander start against Wales this weekend but I still believe that come Scotland next week it'll be one or the other - for me Josh van der Flier has to start and Peter O'Mahony will be in the six jersey.

He's not someone who gives you the big busts - although that line break on Saturday was great to see - but van der Flier is someone who knows what a seven needs to bring to the team.

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It's far more than just an ability to get over the ball come breakdown time.

We've seen Pete O'Mahony there before but the pictures you see differ far more than people think and you're more likely to get the big moments you need out of Pete when he's playing where he's more familiar. His ability to pick and choose a bit more is what gets the best out him.

Josh is another story, a tailor-made seven, someone capable of providing the relentless work-rate required.

I was never as lean as him unfortunately but the way he plays is the same thing that I tried to bring to the jersey, a coach can put him in there and know that he'll be doing the same things in the 79th minute that he was doing in the second. I don't think anyone can replicate it and that's what Joe will be asking for.

That only leaves one spot up for grabs and I think it'll go to CJ Stander. Jack Conan was in great form for Leinster at the end of last season but he probably hasn't grabbed the chance with both hands over the past two weeks.

It's an interesting debate though and probably the last to be settled before Scotland in two weeks' time.

Old heads gave a reminder of their substance

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Rory Best

We said last week that rugby was more and more a young man's game but it was pleasing nonetheless to see Joe Schmidt's three most experienced campaigners play their part in Ireland's win on Saturday.

There's been a lot of outside noise about Rory Best and he's come in for criticism off the back of Ireland's performance against England in Twickenham a few weeks back.

It was a big day for him obviously with it being his last game at the Aviva Stadium but Rory is a creature of habit and he'll have looked to prepare for this game like any other.

He takes real pride in his basics being as good as they can be, his pass, his footwork his defence have always been top notch and were so again on Saturday, there was even a jackal penalty in the first-half which has always been a crucial element of his armoury. I'm obviously delighted for him but he wasn't alone.

There were moments when Johnny Sexton's lack of game time was obvious but, by and large, he did what he needed to do and Rob Kearney provided two of the most important moments of the game.

An attack saw Wales pull a nice starter play out of the bag off a scrum and if Rob wasn't switched on and covering in behind, they would have had a try. It was a similar story when Robbie Henshaw chased down Dan Biggar and Rob got back to get under the ball.

He won't be the most flashy of 15s but there's few players better at managing a backfield.

Maybe there's still room for a few old heads yet!

Gifts and forfeits ways of keeping spirits high in build-up

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Rob Kearney

When the players got back into the Aviva Stadium changing room on Saturday afternoon there's no doubt that first celebratory beer will have tasted like one of the sweetest of their lives.

Whatever about the win, and even going number one in the rankings for a first time ever, but coming through that final game unscathed is when you can finally start looking forward to the World Cup.

These final days before take off really are special in anybody's career because playing at a World Cup is something you look back on with a real sense of pride, it's the pinnacle in a green jersey.

It's a long tournament though and one of it's unique challenges is keeping everyone in good spirits for what is the better part of two months.

I think it was Brian O'Driscoll who started the tradition of the squad giving each other gifts back in 2007 and I remember being particularly stressed about what to get everyone before ultimately deciding upon some really nice personalised bottles of Powers whiskey. I'd probably not have worried so much if I knew I could have got away with just picking up 30 baseball caps. I wouldn't name names but I guess that's what you can get away with when you're captain.

The various social and discipline committees will soon be in swing and no doubt sheriff Rory Best will be naming a few deputies to dole out his own brand of justice.

The phone call forfeits can be among the worst, where a number will be picked out of your phone and you have to keep the person on the line as long as possible. Imagine if we hadn't had Dave Kearney there to let us know his brother Rob had Robbie Williams' digits in his mobile.

Take that, Rob!

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