Thursday 17 October 2019

Henderson ready to step into Toner's big shoes and call lineout

Iain Henderson. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Iain Henderson. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Devin Toner is still very much big news in Japan, or rather his absence from the squad is.

Given that they opted to have his photo up in the arrivals hall of Tokyo airport, it's fair to say that the World Cup organisers assumed Toner would be in Japan over the coming weeks.

Back on the 2017 summer tour, Toner became something of a cult hero with the Japanese people due to his towering frame.

While it had seemed that most people had moved on from his exclusion, it cropped up again yesterday when a local journalist asked Joe Schmidt to give the reasons behind the thinking behind his decision.

A few minutes after explaining why he wanted a specialist tighthead scrummager, Iain Henderson entered the same room to conduct his own media duties.

The Ulster man cut a cool, relaxed figure as he beamed with pride when revealing that his wife is expecting their second child.

These are exciting times for Henderson, both on and off the pitch. He knows that better than most and he also knows that there is extra responsibility on his shoulders now that Toner is at home.

James Ryan called the lineout really well against Wales two weeks ago, but Henderson has far more experience of it.

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It remains to be seen if that burden will be lumped on Ryan, who will eventually take control of the lineout. There is an argument to be made that a World Cup is no place to be learning your trade.

Fascinating That said, Ryan has proved himself time and time again as he relishes every challenge that is put in front of him. If Schmidt opts to pair Henderson and Ryan together this weekend, it will be fascinating to see who is given the responsibility to run the set-piece.

Scotland will definitely target Ireland at the lineout and will feel that if they can put Rory Best under pressure early on, they have the ability to disrupt and ruin Schmidt's best-laid plans.

Schmidt has recently spoken about sharing the load when it comes to the important responsibility, and that was something Simon Easterby echoed.

"Their ability to call is based around their quality of work that they did prior to the match in training and preparation around the details, which you need to be a top lineout caller," Ireland's forwards coach maintained.

"They (Ryan and Henderson) both understand the need to do their homework and impart their influence on the lineout.

"We talk with the lineout leaders and discuss the menu for each week and how we will implement that in terms of the game-plan. It's a collaborative chat about how we put that together and then someone has to go and lead that as in every part of the game. The lineout is no different."

Henderson has taken on that role with Ulster and while he has had some tough days, every lineout caller will tell you that you have to go through them.

Calling the lineout at Ulster has helped Henderson's case and now he is ready to do the same on the international stage, if called upon.

"I have really enjoyed doing it over the last while," he enthused.

"James Ryan has definitely been stepping up, not only in games but in training as well.

"Peter O'Mahony has called before, Tadhg Beirne as well. So I don't think there is any worry that we don't have any callers.

"Obviously Dev has been relatively consistent over the last number of years. It's a massive blow for him. It's a big call. There was always going to be tight calls around a lot of positions for Joe and the other coaches.

"In some aspects it will be different not having Dev here to go through what our menu might be for the next week or reviewing our last game. Simon Easterby is incredibly professional with his job and how he prepares our lineouts for the next game. I think we are good in that aspect."

As for what makes a good lineout caller, Henderson suggested: "Calmness and within that calmness, you have to know the picture very quickly about what the opposition are throwing at you."

With Scotland coming all guns blazing this weekend, calm heads will be needed all over the pitch.

The player we see nowadays feels like Iain Henderson 2.0. Long gone are the days of regularly switching between second-row and the back-row and even though he can still do a very good job as a flanker, focusing on the one position has made him even more comfortable at this level.

"I think it's in some ways good," he admitted. "I always enjoyed playing back-row but it's good in certain aspects to be able to nail yourself down to one thing and say relatively confidently that I'll be playing second-row.

"That's given me a bit of clarity and an opportunity to aim my concentration on one thing and really attempt to nail it down."

Becoming an assured lineout caller would certainly go a long way to helping Henderson press home those claims for a starting spot.

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