Competition Clashes: A gamble on Kleyn or the dependable Henderson?

Charlie Bennett
11 September 2019

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With the World Cup just around the corner and head coaches finalising their best XVs, competition for places among all teams descending on Japan is intensifying.

And nowhere is this more visible than in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team, who travel to Asia as the world’s new number one-ranked side after their 19-10 victory over Wales in Dublin.

Tries from Rob Kearney, Tadhg Furlong and man of the match James Ryan were enough to topple Warren Gatland’s team and send the boys in green to the summit, but attention now turns to selection for their opening game against Scotland in Yokohama.

And it’s at second row where competition is most fierce, with Iain Henderson and Jean Kleyn locked in the battle to partner likely starter Ryan – a conundrum further complicated by the burgeoning Tadhg Beirne.

Beirne has made an incredible impact since breaking through last season but it’s Henderson and Kleyn who pose the greatest dilemma for Schmidt, who was only able to include Kleyn in his 31-man squad at the eleventh hour after he attained Irish residency – and was therefore available to represent the country – on August 9.

And while him doing so has added greater strength in depth to the boys in green, it has done little to diminish Schmidt’s enduring selection headache.

Kleyn’s Guinness PRO14 record is an impressive one, playing 1169 minutes for Munster last season and making 198 tackles in the process – one every 5.9 minutes.

The South African-born lock, however, had reduced influence in other areas of the game, winning just three turnovers and failing to secure an opposition line-out.

Henderson, by contrast, completed just 662 minutes for Ulster last term but still made 92 tackles, at an inferior rate of one every 6.9 minutes.

The 27-year-old also boasts a superior record elsewhere, winning six turnovers – double the number of Kleyn in around half of his minutes – and two line-outs.

Henderson also has considerable Test match experience under his belt, winning 48 caps for Ireland since his debut against South Africa in 2012, while Schmidt was also reluctant to heap praise on Kleyn’s performance against Wales by describing it as “solid if not spectacular”.

With Ireland’s World Cup bow fast approaching, it looks to be Henderson who is winning the battle.

SCOTLAND’S SELECTION SKIRMISH

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has a similar selection dilemma heading into Japan, this time among his backs.

It’s on the wing where Townsend must move and make a swift decision, choosing between Glasgow Warriors’ Tommy Seymour or Edinburgh’s Darcy Graham.

And all the statistical evidence points in the Edinburgh wing’s favour, with Graham making 18 clean breaks last season and gaining a considerable 687 metres.

Graham also beat 49 defenders throughout the season, the sixth most across the competition in a campaign where he propelled himself into contention for selection.

While Seymour’s Guinness PRO14 statistics may be inferior he can nevertheless boast greater international pedigree. He has a further nine years of experience than Graham and boasts 45 caps compared to the Edinburgh wing’s seven.

With Scotland doing battle with Ireland on September 22, Townsend does not have long to make his decision.


Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!

General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.

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