Iain Henderson: It's time to beat the All Blacks
Iain Henderson believes that the work Ireland have done in South Africa will come to fruition in November when Joe Schmidt’s side come up against the All Blacks twice.
The tourists made history by beating the Springboks away for the first time in the opening Test in Cape Town but couldn’t follow it up with a series win.
Schmidt used all 32 of his touring squad, handing new caps to four players and introducing a host of new players to the white heat of Test rugby.
And, while they came up short in their pursuit of a series win, Henderson reckons the tour will pay dividends in five months time when they come up against the world champions twice in three weeks.
The teams meet in Chicago on November 5 and again in Dublin on November 19.
Ireland have famously never beaten New Zealand, but the Ulster second-row says the time has come.
“One thing we can take from this is that as a side, even being a young side, we've made history once on this tour and there's no reason we can't do it again,” he said.
“No Irish team has ever beaten the All Blacks and I don't see any reason why we can't.
“We've got two opportunities to go and do it and hopefully in Chicago we can look to turn them over there and, if that happens, we'll look to build on it the next week and the next week and go from there.”
Ireland leave South Africa with plenty of regrets tonight, but there has been plenty of investment in new talent in the absence of the star players like Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Peter O’Mahony.
Schmidt handed international debuts to Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy, Quinn Roux and Sean Reidy, while the likes of Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall and Tadhg Furlong made huge progress.
“Definitely, Irish rugby in the provinces this year has been very good,” Henderson said.
“There's so many class players coming through, it's good to see a strong representation from Connacht, Matt Healy and Tiernan both doing really, really well.
“Kieran Marmion's sitting there, Eoin Reddan has been fantastic for Ireland over the last number of years but Kieran Marmion's sitting there ready to go.
“He's been in almost every Irish camp that I've been in since 2012, so he's been in there and knows the gist of things.
“He knows what's going on and he'll come through in the November series and do a really good job.
“That's another one from Connacht, the likes of Jordi Murphy coming through; stepping up after not playing a huge amount before.
“Players like that doing really, really well. Coming through and not having the same experience, but bringing what they've given to their provinces through to senior level, stepping up and playing well.
“It's fantastic, we're missing a few big names and people would have been sceptical when we left Dublin, but fair play to the young guys for stepping up and putting their hands up.”
Yet, for all that, there is still a sense that Ireland missed an opportunity to claim a first series win over the ‘Boks who were there for the taking in the second and third Tests.
Ireland let a 16 point lead slip in the final quarter at Ellis Park last week, while in the decider they created plenty of opportunities but couldn’t get over the line.
“It's a massive shame,” Henderson said.
“Nobody goes out there believing that we can't win, we went out there and gave it everything.
“Fair play to South Africa, they defended brilliantly and kept us off their line.
“Faf du Klerk had a try saving interception when wee Jacko (Paddy Jackson) potentially could have gone himself and on another day we could have won the game, but we'll learn from this and move forward and look forward to having a good autumn series.
“We'll enjoy our time off and make sure we learn from it.
“They’re such a proud nation, in terms of their defence especially around the goal-line when we were pressuring them at the end, that's one thing we pride ourselves on is converting points when we have position and we couldn't at the end.
“I felt we ended up forcing it at the end there, with them getting the turnover.
“They were fantastic in defence, I felt like they had 15 men on their feet the whole game and in the previous games we felt we were finding gaps and making breaks, but they were more solid today.
“Fair play to them, they defended well.”