Crown would be the highlight for King Henry

All week now, the Ireland coaches and players have been running around their team base in Kildare with the metaphorical fire extinguishers, dousing any talk of Triple Crowns or, heaven forbid, a Grand Slam.

You know the mantra. One game at a time. Defence coach Les Kiss took it a step further on Tuesday by describing this Saturday’s meeting with England in Twickenham as 80 one-minute encounters.

Maybe it was the fact that Chris Henry wasn’t cocooned in camp yesterday and in Dublin promoting Kinetica instead, or maybe it’s just because that’s how he rolls, but the Ulster flanker was more up front about the magnitude of this one.

At least on a personal level.

“This is the biggest game I have ever played in. There is no point in trying to hide it. It means something: a Triple Crown. I have won a Churchill Cup with Ireland A in Denver, what was that, four years back?

“Before that? I never won the [Ulster] Schools Cup, I never won the Medallion Shield [for schoolboys U15], I haven’t won anything with Ulster. This is it. There is a trophy on the line, it is the biggest game I have played.”

Henry’s international career has, as most people know, been something of a slow-burner but it was his good fortune that he never made it beyond the extended squad this time two years ago when Ireland last visited London.

The details are infamous: How a scrum minus Mike Ross found itself stuck in reverse and the gate through which the hosts poured to administer a heavy beating but Henry has his own demons to purge this weekend.

It’s two seasons since his Ulster side suffered a convincing defeat there at Leinster’s hands in the Heineken Cup final and there was more heartache last April when Saracens swept past them in a Heineken Cup quarter-final.

This latest attempt to sack Twickenham will be all the more difficult given it is England, the ultimate test for an Irishman as Henry agreed, and an England side that brings a burgeoning belief with it under Stuart Lancaster.

Ireland’s win-loss record there this millennium is good but their beatings in that time have had a tendency to be of the large variety and it is difficult to halt the home side’s momentum when 80,000-plus start singing Swing Low.

What to do?

“It is about us sticking to our game plan. There are going to be times when we’ll want to slow it up and times when we will keep the tempo high. Our backs are dangerous, they score some good tries, and Johnny [Sexton] has games going well. We don’t want to get into an arm wrestle at times but there are going to be times when we want to slow it up.

“It’s a quite difficult question to answer. What has gone well over the last two games is we have gone into Scotland and Wales completely prepared for what Joe told us he wants. If you do what he says you are going to be in the mix for winning the game.

“It’s about sticking to the game-plan no matter what happens. It is all about the next play, the next five minutes, next ten minutes. Keep the intensity high because whenever we keep a high tempo our fitness is very good and we work hard for each other.”

It’s an intriguing prospect.

Up to now, Ireland have had it pretty much all their own way in rounds one and two. Home comforts are over. For now. England away invites the inevitability that backs will be pressed against the wall more than once.

We are about to see the true test of Joe Schmidt’s embryonic Ireland and Henry is confident. No talk of Triple Crowns. No promises of victory. Just an inherent belief that, whatever the challenges, Ireland have the people and the plans to deal with it.

“It’s the people on the pitch. When you huddle up and see the other 14 faces you take so much confidence from that when you’re playing with those sort of players. There’s not too many things that Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell haven’t seen over the years. If you want people on the pitch to try to sort things out, they’re the ones to go to.

“So we’ve got a great balance. You’re always going to be missing players and you’ll always have injuries, people not involved, but I’ve just really enjoyed the company of the players. And that’s the extended squad as well. We’re building a really good squad and something exciting is happening.”


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