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Iain Henderson's 'really important' experience sealed starting spot for Ireland's World Cup opener, says Schmidt

Iain Henderson will earn his 49th cap on Sunday.
Iain Henderson will earn his 49th cap on Sunday.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Iain Henderson's 48-cap experience helped to secure his spot in Ireland's starting XV for Sunday's World Cup opener against Scotland.

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The Ulster lock was named alongside James Ryan in Joe Schmidt's side, with Tadhg Beirne providing the back-up from the bench.

That meant there was no place in the match-day panel for Jean Kleyn, who had controversially been preferred to Devin Toner in Ireland's 31-man World Cup squad.

There had been a train of thought that Henderson may be used as a replacement - or a 'finisher' - in the biggest games, such as what could be a play-off for top spot in Pool A this weekend or a quarter-final.

The argument was that the newly-appointed Ulster captain had made such an impact off the bench in the home win over Wales earlier this month that Schmidt may have held him back for another dynamic display in the final quarter.

However, there has proved to be no-such concern after what Schmidt said was a 'relatively long discussion' on whether or not to leave out newly-qualified Kleyn.

"James Ryan has come back in for these last two games and done really well. He's of known value to us," the coach explained. "Iain Henderson's almost got 50 caps. He was involved in the big games in the World Cup last time. I think to have that experience is really important particularly in the first game out.

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"For Jean to find his way into the tournament, I've no doubt he will feature in some really important games for us.

"Coming off the bench, Tadhg Beirne has the ability to change the game up a bit so we felt his versatility across the whole back five specifically in the second row for us - he gets great pressure in the ball. He has a little more time with us than Jean so we felt for continuity again we would go with that combination."

The coach again emphasised the importance of his 'pivotal' replacements for what he is expecting will be a tight game, whether the heavy rain hits or not.

"You just have to adapt to the conditions," he said of the ever-changing forecast. "They will adapt as well. If Greg Laidlaw is at scrum-half, he's a very proficient kicker and an effective goal-kicker. When it does rain, points become that little bit more valuable because they're harder to get as it's harder to sustain a continuity of play.

"Therefore Greg could be very useful for them and we know Finn Russell has a huge variety of kicking game so he will be a threat. And there's the length of Stuart Hogg's kicking game. In the end, when you match that up with us with the likes of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, I don't think there's much between the teams wet or dry.

"Whoever does get the bounce of the ball or can be a little bit more efficient, it may just tip the balance."

Schmidt has endured a tough 2019 so far, with Six Nations defeats to England and Wales followed by an infamous 57-15 loss at Twickenham last month.

So if it hasn't happened yet this year, are Ireland now ready to peak?

"You've just got to hope so," he smiled. "I can't guarantee anything. In 48 hours time we'll have a better idea, just arriving at the stadium and getting ready to warm-up. I'll be anxious because you never quite know but one thing I will be really confident of is we will be tough to beat. You'll see a very collective effort and that will make us tough to beat. I've no doubt the Scots are working away and will make sure they're something similar."

There's little doubt, he admitted, that the World Cup warm-up games haven't revealed all about his or any other team in the competition.

"There's not too much up my sleeves but there are certainly things that you do hold back a bit," he said. "I've no doubt we'll see something from Scotland that we haven't seen before because we've been planning this for a long time.

"When you get the opportunity to put it into practice, it has to be done accurately and one thing that gets in the way of that is the pressure the other team puts on you. I've no doubt that both teams will be trying to put pressure on each other so that whatever they have got planned isn't quite as effective as they'd hoped."

Henderson (1).jpg
Iain Henderson will earn his 49th cap on Sunday.

Ireland's game kicks off at 8.45am BST on Sunday and we'll bring you live updates and reaction on the Belfast Telegraph website.

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