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Iain Henderson tipped to have a big influence on Irish

By Jonathan Bradley

With Ireland captain Paul O'Connell set to retire from international rugby later this year, the Munster legend has identified a pair of Ulster locks among the list of his potential successors to the green No 5 jersey.

O'Connell, who will play his last game for Ireland at this autumn's World Cup before heading to Toulon to see out his career, leaves a gaping hole in Joe Schmidt's pack but he believes that the head coach will have a wealth of options when choosing his eventual replacement.

The 108-times capped icon saw first hand the destructive power of Iain Henderson when Munster visited the Kingspan Stadium in May after the 23-year-old burst through his line and produced a sublime offload to create a try for Tommy Bowe.

While Henderson was later sent off in the contest, a decision from Nigel Owens that was later overturned by PRO12 officials, it was part of an eye-catching finish to the season that impressed his international captain and, although the young starlet was named at his preferred position of blindside flanker that day, six of his last seven Ireland caps have come at lock.

"It's great to see the form Iain Henderson was in at the end of the season," said O'Connell before name-checking another couple of engine room operators at Schmidt's disposal.

"It was also great to see Donnacha Ryan back from his foot injury and Devin Toner has been one of the most consistent players in the country for the last two years."

Ulsterman Dan Tuohy also drew admiration from the one-time British and Irish Lions skipper.

The Bristol-born 30-year-old made his most recent Ireland start when O'Connell pulled out of the 2014 Six Nations opener against Scotland on the eve of the Test, but his progress since then has been stalled by a pair of forearm fractures and he faces a battle to make the 31-man panel for the World Cup.

"Dan Tuohy is playing great rugby," opined O'Connell (pictured with Tuohy).

"He's been suffering a bit from getting injured which has interrupted some of his great form and Mike McCarthy isn't even in the squad so I think Ireland are in a very good position with second-rows.

"Who will be playing there, you'd have to ask Joe."

Despite his looming international retirement, O'Connell, who was voted as player of the 2015 Six Nations, feels that his physical condition is perfectly attuned for the rigours of a gruelling World Cup campaign that is now less than eight weeks away.

"My body is in great shape," said the man who will turn 36 during the tournament.

"The older you get the less confidence you have sometimes.

"There's so many incredible athletes coming through that you're always under pressure to be in shape, to work hard. There's always a bit of doubt in your mind and that's what makes you train harder and prepare."

It was with a view to prolonging his club career, however, that led to his decision to walk away from the Irish set-up.

"There's nothing in my contract about getting every second week off or anything," he said.

"They've (Toulon) a very big squad and they look after their players very well.

"Chatting to Nathan Hines (the former Scotland and Leinster lock who played for Clermont in the Top 14), he said one of the things that helped him play on was retiring from international rugby.

"Those autumn windows and those Six Nations windows, you get a chance to rest up and recover a little bit. That's what I'd be hoping to do as well."

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