RBP’s Position Battles: Ireland’s Centre Pairing

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One of the biggest question marks Irish rugby has faced over the last decade is how to replace their iconic centre pairing of Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll. Since the retirement of BOD, Ireland seem to have settled on a pair of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, but other players have shown great potential in recent months, and with Ireland losing to France and England in the 6 Nations, the public is calling for some experimentation in the centres. We left out the Henshaw, Payne combination simply because everyone has seen it and this is more focused on the more exciting possible combinations Ireland have.

12. Stuart McCloskey 13. Robbie Henshaw:

This is certainly the form pairing at the moment, and it would give Ireland one of the largest combinations they’ve ever had. However, there is far more to this combination than sheer bulk. Both of these players have shown excellent feet and hands over the course of their careers, which makes them a rare threat. This combination has been tried once, as Ireland played England in the 6 Nations. It was McCloskey’s first cap, and he performed admirably, making some impressive runs in the second half while also holding his own in defence. However the star of the day was Henshaw, who ran for over 100 metres, leaving would be tacklers in his wake. He very nearly scored a game changing try, but for an excellent cover tackle from Jack Nowell.

12. Luke Fitzgerald 13. Robbie Henshaw:

After watching the aforementioned England game, our conclusion was that Henshaw’s long term future is in the centres. There, he can better use his vision and agility to beat defenders, as opposed to inside centre, where he finds himself consistently doing the dog work. Fitzgerald may have had continued injury woes, but when healthy he has proven to be a lethal finisher for Ireland. This season was the first time he was given continued opportunities in the twelve shirt for Leinster, and he took them with both hands, showing his remarkable agility and dangerous pace, as well as his physicality. Fitzgerald made a big impression against Toulon, dancing past the likes of Ma’a Nonu and Maxime Mermoz with ease. The benefit of this combination is, if Joe Schmidt wanted to keep Henshaw at twelve, then Fitzgerald is just as comfortable in the thirteen jersey.

12. Robbie Henshaw 13. Garry Ringrose:

While many were quick to anoint Robbie Henshaw as BOD 2.0, keen Leinster fans and those who watched the Irish U20 team were quick to point out that there was another talented young centre making a name for himself. That player is Garry Ringrose, and he has established himself as a starter for Leinster this season, despite being only 21 years of age. He was given a start in the crucial interpro against Munster earlier this year, and proceeded to slice the Munster defence to pieces, just as he did against Bath in his first European start. While Ringrose’s small frame could be a liability, having Henshaw inside him would negate that. It may not be his time yet, but look out for Ringrose to be a true star in the next few seasons.

12. Stuart Olding 13. Robbie Henshaw:

If you thought Fitzgerald had bad injury luck, Olding has had it even worse. This talented young star has been cruelly cut down every time he seems to be making progress into the Irish setup. Nonetheless, the 23 year old’s prodigal talent seems to shine through time and time again, and it is only a matter of time before he returns to the green jersey. Olding has great vision and an excellent passing game to boot, so he is an ideal candidate to play at inside centre, while freeing up the electric style of Henshaw on the outside. If Olding can stay healthy for a prolonged period, we have no doubt that he is worthy of Joe Schmidt’s recognition.

12. Sam Arnold 13. Garry Ringrose:

This is not a pairing for today, this is a pairing for the future, but it is one that has caught the eye of RBP over the last year. This was the pairing that Ireland used in the U20 6 Nations and World Championship, and it provides two complementary styles that will allow Ireland the best of both worlds. The Munster bound Arnold is a stocky player at 12, and his pace, agility, and size, make him a unique athlete that Ireland cannot afford to ignore. He has seen limited time with Ulster this season, but I have no doubt that with increased exposure, his performances will only improve. Ringrose is more of a gliding runner, and his vision allows him to pick excellent lines to profit off the hard running Arnold. Keep an eye on these two, as they are perhaps Ireland’s future stars.

Aidan Clarke
Media Intern from America.

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