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Football heroes inspiring Ireland to go on to glory


Eye on ball: Rory Best, in training yesterday, says Iain Henderson will make a huge impact tomorrow

Eye on ball: Rory Best, in training yesterday, says Iain Henderson will make a huge impact tomorrow

?INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Eye on ball: Rory Best, in training yesterday, says Iain Henderson will make a huge impact tomorrow

Rory Best is convinced Iain Henderson will be ready when called upon by Ireland in the Millennium Stadium tomorrow.

The young Ulster forward, sensational in his two Rugby World Cup performances to date, has been left on the bench by Joe Schmidt for the crucial Pool D decider against France but his provincial skipper still expects him to influence proceedings.

"Hendy will prepare like he always will," said Best at yesterday's team announcement.

"You know, he's been no stranger to coming off the bench for Ireland and making an impact and that's what he'll look to do.

"There's a lot of pressure on the bench that they need to be as prepared if not better prepared than the players who are starting.

"I'm sure it's something he'll take in his stride and he'll look to add something when he comes on."

The Ireland squad were given a day off on Thursday with most taking advantage of the free time to fit in a round of golf or try their hand at clay pigeon shooting.

Best however, along with fellow agriculture enthusiast Sean O'Brien, took in a grass management farm before joining team-mates to watch Northern Ireland book their place at Euro 2016.

The hooker says he felt "inspired" as Michael O'Neill's men ended their 30-year wait for a major championship.

"To qualify for France was brilliant," he enthused. "The boys have been great through this campaign; it was great to see them get across the line.

"The way Steven Davis scored that first goal, the way he played, it was very inspirational for us to watch both games and it was fantastic."

Full-back Rob Kearney was equally impressed by the Republic of Ireland's efforts in beating world champions Germany to keep their own European Championship dreams alive while the two-time Lion was thrilled that a quintet of Irish sporting legends visited the squad earlier in the week.

AP McCoy, Barry McGuigan, Sonia O'Sullivan, Niall Quinn and Henry Shefflin were at Celtic Manor on Wednesday night and Kearney said: "It was brilliant to meet those five.

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"There were great stories and good chats but there's something special about Irish people with the massive level of colloquialism that we have

"Bringing all those Irish icons over to us in Wales brought all that right back.

"It was a great touch, a big thing this week is about being Irish and that helped build it.

"The soccer boys did brilliantly too and it was great to see the Aviva full and everyone cheering.

"Hopefully now it's set up a great weekend for Irish sport."

The Leinsterman was less animated when describing French attempts to knock Johnny Sexton out of his stride as "unnecessary noise". The ex-Racing Metro man has again dominated the build-up to tomorrow's game with unnamed former teammates criticising him in the local press before prop Eddy Ben Arous stated that Les Bleus would "hunt down" the Irish out-half.

"We won't be fazed," said Kearney.

"There's a huge amount of experience in this team and we've played in some massive occasions before.

"We've been exposed to hype and chat from the opposition plenty of times.

"I'd like to think we're all mature enough now and long enough in the game now to cope.

"It's 15 on 15 for 80 minutes, and everything else around that is just unnecessary noise that will have no effect on the outcome."

France have selected two full-backs in their back three, Scott Spedding continuing in the number 15 jersey while Brice Dulin features on the wing, but Kearney is confident Ireland's aerial prowess will be more than a match for Philippe Saint-Andre's men.

"Our high-ball game is part of our approach most weekends, it's won us a lot of games," he said. "Opposition teams know it's coming when they play Ireland, so we have to be better at that now they know it's coming on a weekly basis. They've picked two full-backs to deal with that as well, so we've got to be strong in that regard. But we've got three full-backs in our back-three, all of us have played there at some point in their career."

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