Brian O’Driscoll is the king of Irish rugby and one of the greatest players to ever wear the green jersey.
O’Driscoll will go down in history for his 141 caps and 46 tries as well as Six Nations appearances and try-scoring records. However, what made O’Driscoll so strong was his partner in crime, Gordon D’Arcy. These two world-beating centres played alongside each other for Leinster and Ireland for a whopping 15 years.
O’Driscoll and D’Arcy extended their world-record centre partnership to 56 caps against France in O’Driscoll’s swansong. Ireland haven’t had as good a centre partnership since.
However, since Ireland’s best centre ever retired they are yet to fill his enormous boots. Each great team has a rock solid and dangerous centre pairing like Ireland did have. However, since their great Leinster pair, D’Arcy and O’Driscoll, retired, Ireland have failed to fill the void left by the duo.
Joe Schmidt has tried numerous combinations in an attempt to eclipse these mighty heroes. His newest combination make their first start this weekend.
Stuart McCloskey and Robbie Henshaw might be big in size, but that won’t be enough to save Ireland’s midfield against England.
There have been many partnerships since O’Driscoll hung up his boots, so ahead of McCloskey and Henshaw’s first game together in midfield we’ve decided to look back at five of the best/worst partnerships since.
Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw
This partnership has been a favourite of Joe Schmidt’s and the first he used after O’Driscoll’s retirement back in November 2014. These two centres were launched into the deep end in a bid to win the World Cup, which was a year away then. With a mix of power and skill, on paper this centre partnership looks a dream but sadly for Ireland they haven’t stunned the world just yet.
Gordon D’Arcy and Darren Cave
In the second game of the post-Brian O’Driscoll era, the midfield was changed once more by Joe Schmidt. Gordon D’Arcy partnered Darren Cave, which was unfamiliar given D’Arcy’s history with Brian O’Driscoll. None the less, this midfield led to a rout over a sorrowful Georgia.
Gordon D’Arcy and Robbie Henshaw
These two centres used their strength to help guide the team to their first victory together back in November 2014. The two linked well to edge Ireland to a close-fought victory over the Wallabies. Based on this performance this would’ve been the pair most Ireland fans would have wanted to face Argentina at in last year’s World Cup.
Gordon D’Arcy and Jared Payne
The Leinster and Connacht men played together just once for Ireland in a World Cup warm-up game against Scotland. They went on to win the match, but that was to be the end of the pairing too.
Although they weren’t the most powerful men on the field, these players possessed skills most centres only wished for. Ireland would have been more creative at the World Cup if they had these two on hand to win them the game.
Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls
Towards the latter end of the World Cup last year, this was the 12 and 13 that nearly guided Ireland to the semi-finals. They played three games, two of which they won. The excitement of Henshaw’s brute strength, coupled with Earls’ electric pace was a mouth-watering prospect for Ireland. However, their loss to Argentina not only ended their campaign but it was the end of this partnership.
There have been many who have tried to replace the mighty Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, however all of these centres have failed.
Against England this weekend it will be Robbie Henshaw and Stuart McCloskey. But can the powerhouse duo cement their place in the Ireland side permanently?
Patrick Perry, Pundit Arena