Chris Henry says Seán O’Brien should start for Ireland this weekend — to help ease some of the pressure on Ireland’s ‘untouchables’.
Joe Schmidt has started three different back row combinations in the first three Six Nations games this season — with O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, and Jack Conan all starting.
O’Brien was released from camp last week to work on his ‘conditioning’, leading many to conclude he will not start against France, but the former Ulster and Ireland flanker believes the Carlow man is a must-pick.
“Ireland have a number of untouchables in the squad, the five or six players who know they’ll start, but it’s them who are feeling the heat,” Henry said.
“If you look at Seán’s career, if he picked up an injury he’d be thrown [straight back] in and every time he seemed to deliver.
“This Six Nations I went ‘surely he can’t do that again’, but because of the England game, the way that worked, and the way the players were talking ‘oh we are flat, we’d no energy’, I thought Seán was amazing (against Scotland).
“He was fitter than I thought he’d be, played 65 minutes of that game and I was watching, wondering when was going to drop off but he didn’t drop off until the very end.
“I’ve seen him less fit — so if confidence is low now and the team need those inspirational figureheads to take some heat off Pete [O’Mahony], Johnny and Rory [Best] — three big leaders, you have to start Seánie if he’s good to go.”
Schmidt names his team this afternoon, and Henry does not expect his former boss to have felt under any pressure this past fortnight.
Henry, retired from the game since November, won 15 of his 24 international caps under Schmidt, the last of which came in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina.
If the Kiwi did not lose his head with that defeat — he doesn’t expect him to do so now.
“He’ll just keep doing what he’s been doing, he knows what works for him, he won’t change the world and he doesn’t need to.
“He’s not going to cuddle the players at all ... but I think Joe understands everyone’s human, a lot of the squad are so young and are dealing with high expectations.
“He’ll know when to prod in certain ways or when to pull back in other ways.
“He’s the coolest and calmest out of anyone in that squad, so I don’t think he’ll be using what’s going on outside as a motivating factor at all,” he added.
Playing France should be motivation enough, Henry says, a team coming to Dublin with an unchanged starting XV for the first time since 2003. Victory over Scotland two weeks ago was as impressive as they’ve been in recent times, with the young half-back pairing of Romain Ntamack (19) and Antoine Dupont (22) impressing..
“It was great to see them back, a good France is great for tournament,” Henry said.
“It’s a good time to get them, because they did well against Scotland but for those (Ireland) players who have been under heat, this is the best opportunity to go out and enjoy it, embrace it and try not to get too uptight.
“France have also shown some crazy stuff in the first two games, and hopefully some of that slips back in because there’s a chance now for Ireland to show why they’re No.2 in the world, and just because France had one good game last week, it doesn’t mean they’ll do well two games in a row.”
- Former International Chris Henry teams up with Volkswagen, a proud partner of Irish Rugby, ahead of Ireland v France #ReadyForMore.