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O’Driscoll will be absent from the RBS 6 Nations Championship for the first time in its 11-year history after being sidelined with shoulder surgery.
That leaves the door open for a glimpse to Ireland’s future with Declan Kidney having several options to fill the void in the No.13 shirt.
Fergus McFadden has already filled O’Driscoll’s shoes in impressive fashion at Leinster while Tommy Bowe, nominally a winger, has been used effectively at outside centre by the Ospreys this season.
Yet it is Earls who Henderson – who won 29 caps for Ireland as well as touring Australia with the British & Irish Lions in 2001 –believes should be in pole position to be Ireland’s lucky 13 against Wales on February 5.
“I am a firm fan of Keith Earls and if he is groomed enough in a rugby sense then he can step into that role and develop into a world-class outside centre,” said Henderson.
“I think he has got pace, good hands, good feet and has all the makings of a good 13.
“You want to get your skilful players on the ball as much as possible and it is no disrespect to anyone else but I just see him as a raw talent with a bit of moulding can become a very special talent.
“There are other options. Tommy Bowe has been outstanding on the wing but he has played regularly at 13 for the Ospreys so maybe you could throw him in there. I don’t see it as much as a back three anymore but a back five and all these guys should be able to switch in and out of positions.”
The question marks for Declan Kidney don’t end at outside centre with the perennial debate about whether to rely on the young talent of Jonathan Sexton or the experience of Ronan O’Gara at fly-half.
But Henderson is adamant the Leinster midfield pairing of Sexton and Gordon D’Arcy have to start against Scotland.
“There’s no debate at 10,” added Henderson. “Sexton has to start. I think he has been on flying form for the last couple of years and if he is gets a run at ten then I think he can emulate what ROG has done for the last ten years.
“To be honest if you are going to lose Brian for the Six Nations then you need more experience in the middle of the park. I think getting rid of the two of them [O’Driscoll and D’Arcy] would be a slight mistake. He can stay there and really help to bring someone else on.”
While O’Driscoll’s place in the RBS 6 Nations history books are secure having broken the Ian Smith’s Championship try-scoring record, he could also join a select band of players to have played in four Lions tours if he makes the plane to Australia in 2013.
By that time O’Driscoll will be 34 and his body will have gone through the tribulations of 14 years of professional rugby – but Henderson says it is never wise to write off his former centre partner.
“You would have to play with Brian O’Driscoll in Australia”, said Henderson who was speaking at the announcement that Thomas Pink will be the official outfitter to the 2013 Lions.
“I know he is slightly long in the tooth but he is one of the world’s best centres and with all his experience behind him I am sure he would like to put right what happened 12 years ago.
“I absolutely think he has got it in him to rouse himself one final time. He is still physically in great condition, mentally he is in a good place and if fit he would be an integral part of the Lions team again.”