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Chris Henry relishing the chance to make World history

By Jonathan Bradley

As Chris Henry prepares for the "biggest game" of his life in tomorrow's World Cup quarter-final against Argentina, he knows that he and his team-mates are on the verge of taking Ireland into uncharted territory.

No Irish squad has ever reached the semi-finals of the competition, while five have fallen in the last-eight.

For some, the expectation to succeed where so many greats of Irish rugby have failed would be almost unbearable but that is not a view subscribed to by the Ulster flanker.

For Henry - a player who many doubted could even make this World Cup after suffering a mini-stroke 11 months ago and always one to focus on the positive - tomorrow is a day to make history, not to be distracted by the weight of it.

"We won't be burdened by the past, we're very, very focused on the opportunity that we have," said Henry, sat beside Joe Schmidt at the head coach's team announcement yesterday.

"It only comes around every four years, for a lot of us it won't ever happen again so I guess there's that history.

"But we've got guys who have played in some pretty big games as well, guys who have played in big, big Test matches.

"We're very driven ourselves but for me the biggest motivating factor is the support we had. The atmosphere in the Millennium last week (against France) was incredible.

"I don't think anybody had experienced anything like it. I've no doubt on Sunday that the fans will be just as loud if not more, even if it is a one o'clock kick off.

"We loved it last week and we just want to go out there and do ourselves justice, get stuck in and we've a chance to make history.

"Everyone's very, very focused. We've prepared extremely well and it's about going out there and having no regrets."

With Sean O'Brien banned after receiving a one-game suspension for striking France's Pascal Pape last week, Henry will be in from the start tomorrow after beginning three of Ireland's four contests to date on the bench.

When fit, Schmidt's first choice back-row has always consisted of O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip but only the latter will be present at the Millennium.

Henry's fellow flanker in Cardiff will be Jordi Murphy while Rhys Ruddock, who only joined the squad on Monday after O'Mahony's injury, provides cover from the bench.

Malone man Henry has called on both himself and Barcelona-born blindside Murphy to seize the chance of a starting berth.

"It's a huge opportunity," he reflected. "The back-row, it's always tough to get a spot in there and myself and Jordi Murphy are chomping at the bit.

"For the majority of this team, we haven't played in too many quarter-finals of World Cups so it's the biggest game of my career.

"It's something that all week it's hard to keep the emotions in check given the magnitude of it but we just want to get out there and do as much as we can.

"This squad of players, the boys that have got their chances over the last two years, have done well but now it's time for other players to step up to the plate."

For his part, Schmidt has no doubt that Henry is ready to excel having proven his international class during Ireland's 2014 Six Nations win.

The Kiwi coach said: "Chris has played through a full Six Nations with us and played exceptionally well.

"Unfortunately he was unavailable for the last Six Nations and somebody else filled in and it's a little bit how it's been for us.

"Rhys Ruddock has come in late, not for the first time.

"He came in late to replace Chris before we played South Africa and played very well.

"Jordi Murphy started against England in the Six Nations and games don't get much bigger than that for us on this side of the world.

"We've got confidence in those guys.

"Jamie Heaslip has been involved in every game so far and he brings some cohesion while the other two guys bring a bit of freshness and I've no doubt that they'll bring a real vitality to our set-piece and our broken play."

With Paul O'Connell another absentee, the Irish captain's Test career ended by the hamstring surgery necessitated by last week's injury, Henry admits that the team must all shoulder the load of replacing the irreplaceable.

"These things happen in rugby but it's up to everyone to step up to the plate and up their game," he said.

"In past years if we have been slow starting, Paul has been the one who generates something so the rest of us have got to step up."

Helping Ireland into a first semi-final depends on it.

Argentina, meanwhile, have refused to hunt down Jonathan Sexton despite Ireland's fly-half suffering lingering groin trouble.

The Pumas head coach Daniel Hourcade rejected the all-out assault on Sexton that France launched last week.

Sexton hobbled out of Ireland's 24-9 victory over Les Bleus in Cardiff last Sunday and can expect more physical threat from Argentina.

The Pumas admit they will treat Sexton like any other fly-half.

Argentina boss Hourcade said: "They are a team that we respect a lot but they have weak points and we're going to attack them through those.

"We prepare the game thinking it's the best team of Ireland, and that's with Sexton 100 per cent.

"I don't want to have any surprises. We have a gameplan and we are maybe thinking about Ireland and not about a player who perhaps is not 100 per cent.

"We consider Sexton is 100 per cent fit, so it would perhaps be a mistake to go and try to find him.

"He can surprise you, because he's a good player. We cannot just focus on him, thinking that he's not fit."

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