Saturday 21 April 2018

Henderson has come long way since 'bizarre' 'Boks debut

Iain Henderson poses for a portrait after an Ireland rugby press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Iain Henderson poses for a portrait after an Ireland rugby press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Iain Henderson looks back now with disbelief at the 20-year-old kid thrown into the killing fields against the Springboks in 2012.

Fresh-faced and still filling out his big frame, he was coming off the back of an impressive campaign for the U-20s and had impressed in the early weeks of the season for Ulster.

Even then, he was perhaps a surprise inclusion in Declan Kidney's squad for the November internationals and then he was named on the bench for the opening game against a sizeable 'Bok side.

Replacing Mike McCarthy with 10 minutes to go, Henderson threw himself into the fray but couldn't affect the result as Ireland suffered a drab, forgettable 16-12 loss thanks to Ruan Pienaar's try.

It was a day he'll never forget, even if it's a selection call he's still getting his head around.

"Obviously looking back now I understand why no one ever selected me until I made my international debut!" he says with a smile.

"I was young and raw and inexperienced, and probably didn't have a bit of a clue what I was doing.

Mould

"But it was obviously a coach with faith in me and sort of saw what they could potentially mould out of this 20-year-old kid.

"I loved it at the time, it was fantastic. I had only really started playing for Ulster, I thought it was very bizarre.

"It was interesting that my opposite number was Marcel Coetzee, I had a good chat with him afterwards and I've got his jersey in my house that I swapped off him that day."

Henderson is likely to renew acquaintances with Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth on Saturday and he is looking forward to testing himself against one of the game's best second-rows.

"I've played against him a good few times before, he's obviously a massive presence on the pitch and a huge leader in their team, obviously captaining them now," he said.

"He's been very good for them, not only in the tournament just passed, but in the last number of years he's been a huge presence for South Africa.

"His performances add to his presence and size and the way he carries himself and I'd say the work he does off the pitch would probably match that to make him the player that he is.

"Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert, they're all enormous presences, Pieter Steph du Toit as well.

"They're all probably what you'd describe as your traditional South African rugby players so to speak."

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