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Chris Henry: Rory Best is gone but I'm not expecting an exodus of Ireland stars after World Cup exit

Rory Best saw his international career come to an end following defeat by New Zealand in Tokyo. (Adam Davy/PA)
Rory Best saw his international career come to an end following defeat by New Zealand in Tokyo. (Adam Davy/PA)
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

It never really goes away, the feeling of loss like that.

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When you pour everything into a four-year cycle, build it up for so long, have a chance to make history and fall flat, it stays with you.

Even for all the big losses I had with Ulster, the defeat to Argentina in the World Cup quarter-finals four years ago remains one game I wish I could have back. The nature of the tournament means that for a lot of the players, when you go out of the competition you know it’s more likely than not you’re not going to get another crack at it.

There’s a handful of players who can reasonably expect to be here in four and even eight years’ time, but that’s a long time in rugby.

While the southern hemisphere players go into their break now, it’s a challenge for the Ireland stars to be staring into a long season.

You need a break, a reset, after something like that. In 2015, we had one night back in Dublin as a squad before going our separate ways.

A few days in Dubai with a smaller group of players and partners was used to try and get away from it all but the feeling is hard to shake.

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It’s both a blessing and a curse that the Heineken Cup games come around so quickly.

Before you know it, there’s a new challenge to throw yourself into and you just have to move forward.

To that point, it’ll be Six Nations time before you can blink and it’s going to be fascinating to see where Ireland go from here.

Obviously Rory Best won’t be a part of that, the captain retiring after this tournament.

It really was a pleasure and privilege to be alongside him and it’s a huge pair of boots to fill for sure. We’ll learn a lot about the direction Andy Farrell is going to go as a coach in his first seasons in the job by his choice of captain.

Four years ago, after our own World Cup exit, there wasn’t such a huge turnover of players really.

Paul O’Connell retired through injury, but had he not, his move to Toulon was in the pipeline for a while regardless.

Other than that, though, after the tournament it was the likes of myself, Mike McCarthy and Eoin Reddan who weren’t really a part of the plans moving forward.

We were fringe players really, not the central figures who are now facing question marks over their respective futures.

There’s naturally going to be calls for Farrell to start the drive towards 2023 now, but to do so would mean moving forward without the likes of Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney. Those are huge calls and it will be fascinating to see what way he goes.

Personally, I expect that we will see Farrell try and put his own stamp on things — which is an important thing to do when you are moving into the top gig having been a part of the set-up — but I just don’t see us mimicking the likes of New Zealand or Australia and having some sort of mass exodus of senior players at the end of a World Cup campaign.

Ireland haven’t become a terrible team in the space of 11 months and, while the quarter-final jinx is going to be the elephant in the room for another four years, there is still a strong group of players for Farrell to work with moving forward.

It is going to be really interesting to see what he does with them a few months down the line.

Vahaamahina crossed line and it proved costly

There can't have been anyone feeling worse than Sebastien Vahaamahina this weekend.

I don’t know him at all but I genuinely feel sorry for the French lock.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be sat on that long flight back to Paris surrounded by team-mates knowing that it was your moment of madness that cost the squad a place in the semi-finals of a World Cup.

As Ireland know all too well, such opportunities don’t come around every day, and I got no real sense from Wales that they were going to come back before they ended up going against 14 men for such a long period of time.

Even then France still had multiple opportunities for another score but they stopped playing too early.

It can be a bit of a challenge playing a game, especially as a forward, that requires you to be so physical and aggressive while keeping things under control.

There were certainly times when I’d do things like making sure a scrum-half couldn’t get up as quickly as he’d like or similar, but Vahaamahina crossed a line, swinging the elbow like that is nothing short of dangerous.

From the performances in the pool stages, the reports of in-fighting within the camp and then a meltdown in the last-eight, this was another tournament where France remained true to the cliche.

Life with Les Bleus is certainly never boring.

England have been impressive, but no stopping the All Blacks

England versus New Zealand is set to be a real classic in the semi-finals on Saturday as we’re likely seeing the two best teams in the world going head-to-head.

It would have been a fitting final seeing these two do battle in a week’s time but, as it is, we’ve a hugely appetising last-four tie in store.

I tipped England before the tournament and they’ve been in seriously impressive form throughout, seeing off Australia with some great rugby and showing quite a bit of steel to hold off a resurgent Wallaby fightback at the start of the second half too.

Going up against the vaunted twin openside combo of David Pocock and Michael Hooper, one of the aspects of their game that most caught my eye was the effectiveness of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry (right).

The men nicknamed ‘the Kamikaze Kids’ by Eddie Jones certainly did a number on Australia, their brilliant work together best summed up by a dual turnover in the first half.

They’re obviously good over the ball, but what might go unnoticed is their tackle technique. In a World Cup where there has been such an emphasis on high tackles and one mistimed effort can bring you a three-week ban, the England men get so low each and every time, thundering into hits but doing so in a wholly legal fashion.

I’ve been impressed with them throughout the whole tournament but still just can’t see them overcoming the All Blacks.

Ireland were obviously well below par on Saturday but, in that mood, even their best might not have been enough.

There’s been a real turnover of players over the past year or so for them but the younger guys that have come in have proven to be quality operators. It’s a luxury that few other teams possess, if any. Who else could take the best fly-half in the world and turn him into a full-back months before the competition?

England will give them a game but I think it’s going to be another All Black title on the biggest stage of them all.

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