Friday 20 September 2019

Henderson aims to build on '100pc record' as Ulster captain in France

Confident: Iain Henderson. Photo by John Dickson/Sportsfile
Confident: Iain Henderson. Photo by John Dickson/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It says a lot about the captaincy potential that Les Kiss sees in Iain Henderson that he turned to him to lead Ulster in their Champions Cup opener last Friday.

With Rory Best sidelined, Kiss had been expected to look to Rob Herring who shared the captaincy with Andrew Trimble last season but instead, he opted for Henderson.

Since his stunning performances for Lions, this has felt like a big season in the 25-year-old's career and even though it has taken Henderson a couple of games to get up to speed, he was excellent in Ulster's impressive win over Wasps.

It may not have been one of his typical barnstorming displays but Henderson was involved in two game-changing moments - one of which was a crucial decision as captain.

With Wasps leading 6-3 as the half-time break approached, they set up a powerful rolling maul and just as it was crashing towards the whitewash, Henderson somehow managed to force the turnover.

If that was a snapshot of what lock-cum-flanker is all about, then what followed shortly after the restart was a different side to his game, which evidently is why Kiss made him skipper.

Trailing 9-3 and having been awarded a kickable penalty to cut the gap, most people inside Ravenhill assumed that the home side would take the three points but Henderson pointed to corner and a few phases later, Jacob Stockdale's try broke Wasps' resilience.

"When you watch a game and you see a team make a decision like that on TV or from an outsider's point of view, you look at it and think 'Flip it, that's slightly ballsy, maybe he should have went for the posts'," Henderson maintained.

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"However you can definitely get a feel for the momentum of the game and I felt that we were getting good go-forward ball and as forwards we felt like we were on top of them.

"We felt that our maul hadn't quite got to the level that we wanted to get it to so we thought that we could make something of it.

"We had that in the bag from the previous week and we knew that they had had a short turnaround. We knew they would be starting to lag around that time of the game. We just needed to get into their 22 and work from there.

"We knew that they are a big mauling outfit and had a couple of class lineout and maul operators in their set-up, we just had to go out and do a job on them.

"As a pack we had a focus that we weren't going to concede any maul tries. They tried to maul a couple of times against us but we put an end to that.

"You get a really good buzz from putting an end to those mauls as a forward pack. Obviously a couple of scrums didn't go our way but then a couple did. Off the back, that's where you get the buzz. It makes my decision easier to go for the corner like that."

The assuredness with which Henderson explained his reasoning behind his thought process was reflected in the execution of his team-mates.

He exudes calm, which for a rather inexperienced captain is quite something, so when was the last time he skippered a team?

"I don't know if Les wants to hear this but it was probably Junior rugby in school," he smiled. "When a team of players are up for it, that helps an awful lot. It probably made my job as captain a bit easier than it could have been.

"Definitely with Robbie (Diack), Rob Herring and other guys in the pack who really led it. Lukey Marshall, Christian (Lealiifano), all those guys tied things together quite well and made my job easier than I thought it would be."

Kiss is hopeful that Best might return for this weekend's tricky trip to La Rochelle but even if the veteran hooker doesn't make it, he knows that he can rely on Henderson again.

"I think it was a strong decision, you can say that in hindsight but he felt that it was the right call," Kiss said.

"He has a 100pc captaincy record and that decision proved to be right."

Henderson's aim now is to maintain that flawless record in France on Sunday.

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