/ Six Nations 2016

Brian O'Driscoll ready to hand off to Robbie Henshaw

Updated: Thursday, 13 Mar 2014 22:47 | Comments

Brian O'Driscoll believes Robbie Henshaw can be a fine replacement for him
Brian O'Driscoll believes Robbie Henshaw can be a fine replacement for him

Brian O'Driscoll has anointed Connacht's Robbie Henshaw as his heir apparent for Ireland's outside centre role.

Iconic centre O'Driscoll will retire in the summer after 15 years in the international arena and 141 Test appearances.

The 35-year-old is acutely aware of the chasm to be left by his departure, especially when coupled with Gordon D'Arcy's likely exit after Rugby World Cup 2015.

Leinster and Ireland midfield stalwarts O'Driscoll and D'Arcy will extend their world-record centre partnership international appearance tally to 56 in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash against France in Paris.

The centre partners have been so good for so long that Ireland have hardly had to look elsewhere for an entire generation.

All that is about to change, with head coach Joe Schmidt facing the taxing prospect of replacing true great O'Driscoll this summer.

Former Ireland captain O'Driscoll had no qualms proposing three-cap Henshaw as his successor, while at the same time tipping Darren Cave and Ulster's Jared Payne for supporting roles.

New Zealand-born Payne qualifies in November, and O'Driscoll sees no reason for the IRFU not to fast-track the 28-year-old into the squad in time for the next world cup.

"Robbie is a very, very talented young lad, who is a great listener, a really good young talent, and really good lad too," said O'Driscoll, of the Athlone-born 20-year-old.

"I think he has all the attributes to be a seasoned campaigner for Ireland for many, many years.

"And then you have the beauty of guys who have played there before in Luke Fitzgerald, someone like Jared Payne who qualifies in November.

"As 13s absolutely Robbie and Darren Cave are well-placed; we've an abundance of talent coming through.

"I think it's testament to Darren, who has not been in the frame for a while, but keeping an eye on his form for Ulster he's been playing extremely well."

Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald is a firm Schmidt favourite and a sure-fire bet for some time in the 13 shirt, potentially on the summer Argentina tour.

Fergus McFadden replaced O'Driscoll at 13 in the stalwart's 52nd and final Lansdowne Road appearance, the 46-7 thumping of Italy, but should be more often deployed on the wing.

Munster's Keith Earls has long since harboured ambitions for the 13 shirt with both province and country.

The injury-ravaged 26-year-old would have plenty more than his 39 caps had he not suffered one stint on the sidelines after another.

Live television coverage of the RBS 6 Nations from 12:00 on Saturday 5 March (12:30 Italy v England, 14:45 Wales v Scotland, 17:00 France v Ireland) on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage of France v Ireland on Saturday Sport (14:00) on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).

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