How big of an impact will Jared Payne's injury have on Ireland's World Cup chances? It's very clear that Schmidt pinned Payne and Henshaw as the centre duo that was going to lead Ireland to their best World Cup performance ever. The pair have been Ireland's first choice combination for the last year, and their performances have improved as they have learned more about playing with each other, how each other plays the game. They have been developing trust in each other that all successful centre partnerships need to be successful.
Our article that explains the difference between an inside centre and an outside centre focuses on how important trust is in a centre partnership, and this could be the biggest problem for Ireland with Payne injured. Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw only played together for the first time last week, and while they combined beautifully for Earls' try - the challenge they face of the proven partnership of Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud will need them to develop a trust and understanding quickly.
Schmidt hinted yesterday that Earls will be defensively responsible for Fofana, leaving the more physical Henshaw to tackle the bulldozer that is Bastareaud.
Here's is why trust is so important for the two key defensive positions in rugby:
The success of the outside centre is dependent on his trusting of his inside partner. An outside centre needs to trust his centre partner to be able to cover across and tackle an attacker, should they try to cut a line inside while the outside centre tries to cover the outside options. An outside centre can't stop attacks out wide unless they trust that the inside centre stopping attacks inside.
The video below from Murray Kinsella does an excellent job to highlight why an outside centre needs to trust his inside player to make the tackle. In the last clip, Davies doesn't trust that O'Driscoll is going to make the tackle on O'Connor, and bites inside, allowing O'Connor to give Adam Ashley Cooper the easiest of run ins because Davies can't then turn around and make what should have been an easy tackle if he trusted his inside defender.
That's the issues that can come with two centres having not played together very much. It's not always a big problem, and you can expect that Joe Schmidt will have worked hard on giving both players very defined roles. Even in Henshaw and Payne's first international game together Ireland managed to contain and beat South Africa.
Now, Henshaw has more experience at inside centre, while Earls' form has been very encouraging.
See Also: We Explain The Difference Between An Outside And Inside Centre
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Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE