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'I have only ever had eyes for Ireland' – Grass not greener for Iain Henderson as Ulster captain toasts new deal

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Iain Henderson of Ulster and Ireland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Iain Henderson of Ulster and Ireland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Iain Henderson of Ulster and Ireland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Iain Henderson is looking every bit a potential successor to Johnny Sexton as Ireland captain, which is perhaps why he and the IRFU quickly agreed terms on his new two-year contract extension.

The process might have been delayed on the back of the financial difficulties brought about by Covid-19, yet as soon as they began, it was rather straightforward for Henderson.

His first experience as Ireland skipper didn't go his way in terms of the result against France last time out, yet one imagines it won't be the last time Henderson fulfills the role.

A stalwart in Ireland's leadership group, the 29-year old has grown in stature in recent years, as his leadership qualities have benefitted from taking over as Ulster captain from Rory Best following the 2019 World Cup.

Interestingly, Henderson's new deal does not bring him beyond the 2023 World Cup, but rather July 31st of that year, which means he will require another new deal by then.

“There might be an extra month in there to get it aligned with the global season,” he revealed.

You suspect those negotiations in two years might be as seamless, especially if the lock continues on this upward trajectory.

“Look, it has been a long process and I'm delighted to get to the end of it,” Henderson said.

“I'm looking forward to having that put to bed now. I don't have to worry about that, maybe a week or so I was kind of able to check that box off my list.

“I'm delighted to be able to finally announce that we are back on for another two years.

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“I'm looking forward to it and everything that could entail, be that down here or be that back up at home.”

The landscape has changed across the board in terms of contract talks, which means that many clubs are not throwing cash around as freely as they might have done in the past.

However, that is a moot point for Henderson, who insists he wasn't at all tempted by a move abroad.

“It's a difficult one. Most of the Irish contracts have been done a lot later than everywhere else. I have only ever had eyes for Ireland.

“A few players would try and play clubs off against each other. You wouldn't necessarily get that far down the line for clubs to be making huge cash offers or any cash offers before showing some real commitment.

“I think most of the players, the type of people they are, most of our team and most of the provinces, they wouldn't really play a lot of people off each other.

“So, I think there have been a lot of factors which have made negotiations this year a lot different.”

Henderson is expected to be the first of a host of Ireland stars to put pen to paper on new deals, with announcements due on the likes of Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls and Tadhg Furlong in the coming weeks.

Those discussions will not be as easy for every player though, which is something Henderson is mindful of.

“I would say the initial period was probably more stressful. Speaking generally as the wider group, contract negotiations were maybe later than we would have initially anticipated or the way they would be in a usual year.

"That was probably something that anyone in any profession would find stressful, pushing out their security going forward.

“When they got underway, the discussions that we had with my agent and David Nucifora and other members of his team, they weren't painful at all.

“They were understanding and I think from both sides of the table, we knew where we had to get to and it didn't think anywhere near as long as probably I thought it would.

“I think you always have to be mindful of your team-mates to make sure that you have that extra eye outside of the rugby circle because ultimately that will impact their performance, be it training or matches or sleep before a game or anything like that.”

For now, it's all eyes on Italy this weekend and while Henderson may not lead Ireland out in Rome, he hopes to get the chance to do so again further down the line.

“Yeah, I'd love to do it again,” he adds.

“I really enjoyed it. Obviously the result wasn't what we wanted but I really enjoyed the build up to it and the game.

“Obviously there is a pecking order of leaders ahead of me and this team has leaders all the way through it.

“That's probably why one thing that made it feel more seamless for me or made easy for me to step into that role in the team I was put in charge of.”


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