Saturday 7 December 2019

Iain Henderson sets sights on New Zealand after Ireland run South Africa close

Ireland's tour of South Africa ended in disappointment on Saturday but second-row Iain Henderson is targeting more history in November as he sets his sights on New Zealand.

Joe Schmidt's side beat the Springboks on home soil for the first time in the opening Test at Newlands but could not back that up in the subsequent Tests as they came up short by six points at Ellis Park and in Port Elizabeth.

Ireland return home after losing the series 2-1 but can take positives from the influx of new faces to the camp including new caps Tiernan O'Halloran, Quinn Roux, Sean Reidy and Matt Healy.

Henderson started all three Tests and expressed his disappointment at coming up short after creating a host of opportunities at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Ireland's players now head off for their holidays at the end of a long season, but the Ulster lock already has one eye on the world champions who they face in Chicago on November 5, before Steve Hansen's side come to Dublin two weeks later.

Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks, but Henderson 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 why 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."

For all that they made progress in building their squad in the absence of big names like Johnny Sexton, Sean O'Brien, Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe, Ireland feel they left an opportunity to claim a historic series win behind in South Africa.

Having won the opening game despite CJ Stander's red card, they let a 16-point lead slip in the second Test and spurned a couple of try-scoring opportunities in the decider and finished the game hammering on the Springbok 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."

Schmidt used all 32 players over the course of the tour and remained competitive, and Henderson believes the future of Irish rugby is bright on the back of the work done in South Africa.

"Definitely, Irish rugby in the provinces this year has been very good," he 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."

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