Ireland have no choice but to chase glory at Rugby World Cup 2015 after lifting the RBS 6 Nations title, according to flanker Chris Henry.
The Ulster loose-forward intends to use his breakthrough international tournament as a springboard for more regular Ireland recognition.
The 29-year-old seized the opportunity left by Sean O’Brien’s season-ending shoulder injury to claim Ireland’s openside berth throughout the Six Nations.
Brian O’Driscoll brought down 15 glittering years of international rugby as Ireland edged out France 22-20 in Paris to claim the Six Nations on points difference.
Iconic centre O’Driscoll stamped his authority in world rugby with a superlative hat-trick in Paris in 2000, and helped Ireland claim their first win in France in 14 years on his final international appearance.
And Henry admitted Ireland’s class of 2014 will forever look back with pride on their part in O’Driscoll’s 141st and final international turn.
“I think definitely we will look back and one day, say: ‘I was there’,” said Henry.
“I feel very privileged and honoured to be able to play in his last game, and to play so many games with him.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to win it with his last day, but also very sad too.
“It’s going to be strange when we go to the next camp and he’s not going to be there, but unfortunately that’s the way life is. Things have to move on and I’m just so privileged to be able to play with him.”
While all Ireland will salute the passing of a modern great, Henry said Joe Schmidt’s squad must not allow themselves to dwell on the memories.
Instead Henry has called on Ireland to start their build-up to next year’s World Cup in England without delay.
“I think we have to capitalise on this now in terms of the World Cup,” said Henry.
“We’ve got such a massive run-in to the World Cup now, that when we get together next we’ve got to focus on that.
“I feel a lot of us have improved individually in the last eight weeks under Joe, and that’s what we need to keep doing. Because of the quality of player we have, there’s no telling how far this team can go.
“I want to use it as a springboard for myself as well, personally. Every time I go out there I put pressure on myself. I’ve just loved every minute.”
Henry’s deft offload opened a half-gap for Johnny Sexton to scythe home for the fly-half’s first of two tries in the edgy victory over France.
The combative flanker revealed he has worked hard to add a level of finesse to his renowned fiendish breakdown acumen.
“I just thought I needed to get it away, then Johnny did all the hard work,” said Henry.
“The feeling overall is just incredible. I don’t usually give one-handed offloads but I just thought we had the advantage, so I’m relieved it worked.”
Hailing the impact of boss Joe Schmidt, Henry now wants Ireland to take advantage of the shrewd head coach’s analytical approach in future.
“It gives you a lot of confidence because you know you’re in excellent hands with his preparation and his attention to detail,” said Henry.
“He’s been incredible to deal with, you’re on your toes and you have to know your stuff.
“But you want a coach that challenges you and we certainly are, all the time with Ireland under Joe.
“The pressure is on you to know your stuff. But once you do know all that, it gives you huge confidence to go out and do what he wants.”