Sunday 16 June 2019

Iain Henderson ready to shake 'impact sub' tag and stake his claim against Canada

Ireland's Iain Henderson arrives for the captain's run ahead of tomorrow's opening World Cup pool game against Canada
Ireland's Iain Henderson arrives for the captain's run ahead of tomorrow's opening World Cup pool game against Canada

Cian Tracey in Cardiff

Joe Schmidt has placed his trust in him and now Iain Henderson is determined to repay the Ireland coach by continuing his excellent preseason form.

It’s easy to forget that it’s only been three years since the Ulster powerhouse was dominating the U-20 World Cup in South Africa but he’s come a long way since.

The fact that Ulster see him as a blindside flanker while Schmidt has always earmarked him as an international second-row has made the challenge all the more difficult but it’s one that Henderson has passed with flying colours.

He will start alongside Paul O’Connell against Canada tomorrow and the feeling surrounding the camp is that, another barnstorming display will put him in pole position to start later on in the pool stage.

“Joe has backed me, put me in the starting squad, and that's a massive confidence booster for me,” Henderson admitted.

“I can only try to take my opportunity as I've tried to take my opportunities in the past. Hopefully that would be the grounding of me cementing a place in the starting team.

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“I was happy with how my pre-season went personally and I was delighted that Joe had the confidence to choose me.

“I'm over the moon to get a start beside Paul O'Connell obviously and that's a big, big boost for me. I'll take great confidence from that as well.”

His partnership with O’Connell may not be as far down the line as Devin Toner’s but Henderson is confident that it is one that can become formidable.

Henderson is also slowly beginning to lose the tag of being an impact player from the bench and it is one he is glad to be rid of.

“Obviously I’ve come off the bench with him a couple of times in the Six Nations and we’ve spent the last 10 weeks together in camp,” he said of his partnership with O’Connell.

“Everything can be constantly improved, but I do feel comfortable with him in there, and I’m sure that will improve as time moves on.

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“Throughout the start of last season I was injured for a good bit and coming back, had I have been thrown in the deep end and started any of those Six Nations games I would have been blowing a wee bit.

“I was happy enough to get more experience and get more game time, just build it all up towards this season.

“If you had asked me would I rather play in the second row or not play at all in the opening game of the World Cup, I obviously would have said second row. I love playing rugby in general.

“I played in both Wales games in the second row and I felt comfortable playing in those games.

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“Towards the end of last season at Ulster, I was playing six and again it's two different squads, different personnel and it's different for each team. I'll leave it up to them and just concentrate on playing rugby,” he added.

Henderson’s work rate has improved immeasurably under Schmidt and in past, the Ireland coach has made no secret that it was an area of his game that needed work.

“I think it was more like an open topic. I knew it, he knew it, everybody knew it,” he explained.

“I understand that that is a work-on for me. I'm sure other teams will pick up on it, as we pick up on other teams' weaknesses and strengths.

“It is something I've always had to work on and in doing so Jason Cowman, our S&C coach, has been putting me through my paces in the pre-season, trying to get me as fit as I can be.”

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