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Henderson Revelling In High Pressure Environment

Henderson Revelling In High Pressure Environment

Iain Henderson put in a productive 80-minute shift in Ulster’s bonus point victory over the Dragons, getting the ‘key’ game-time he wanted in advance of the final two rounds of the RBS 6 Nations.

Barely 22 years of age, a look at the personal milestones in Iain Henderson’s career shows you just how quickly the young forward is developing.

He first came to prominence during a mammoth run of 20 appearances for the Ireland Under-20s between 2011 and 2012, his Ulster senior debut followed in April 2012 and a first Ireland senior cap against South Africa was earned in November 2012, following just six senior games for Ulster.

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An O2 Ireland Wolfhounds cap and RBS 6 Nations recognition were quickly ticked off the list early last year before he made his first and only start to date for Ireland during their summer tour win over the USA.

The 6ft 6in lock/flanker – a tremendous athlete and powerful ball carrier – now has eight Test caps to his name, having come off the bench against Scotland and England in recent weeks.

He turned 22 on the eve of the England clash at Twickenham, joining fellow squad members Paddy Jackson, Martin Moore and Jordi Murphy in Ireland’s own ‘Club 22’.

They are the new breed of Ireland international, and the hard work, high pressure and ‘intense’ training under Joe Schmidt is very much to Henderson’s liking.

“It’s brilliant. Everything is upped a gear. You’re put under a lot of pressure. He (Schmidt) manages us on our feet very well so you’re only out on the pitch really for 45 minutes but you’ve got to make sure those 45 minutes are spot on,” Henderson said of Ireland’s pitch sessions.

“Everything needs to be correct because if they are not correct you are still coming in after 45 minutes it’s just that you haven’t got the work done.

“You need to make sure you get your detail nailed on before you go out and you know what lines you are running, you need to know where you are supposed to be and what-not so as soon as you are in the pitch you know exactly what is happening and everything runs like clockwork.”

The Craigavon-born player added: “We’re trying to get our attention to detail a lot better, whereas in years past we might have let these opportunities go.

“We have made them all about staying on top of things and making the most of our opportunities – maybe how to make that extra two metres at a tackle, how to get an offload or something. We’re really working, making sure those pay off in a game.”

Henderson may be a laid back figure off the pitch, but he boasts a steely determination to continue his rapid rise with both province and country and recognises that regular game-time is crucial to that.

“Game-time is key for me. I need to get some more fitness under my belt, which is vital for playing rugby at this level,” he highlighted.

“We (Paddy Jackson and himself) need game-time first of all, because if you don’t play throughout the Six Nations or you’re on the bench or 24th man, 25th man, you’d go seven, eight weeks without playing any rugby and that’s almost like a whole down season with doing absolutely nothing, no game-time.

“I’ll probably talk with (forwards coach) John Plumtree, ‘Jacko’ with Joe who takes the backs more, about work-ons we need to make on our own game.

“These games here (with Ulster), we have got to get game-time and let them see that we’re able to play at international level and have the game fitness to do that.”

Henderson played the full 80 minutes of Ulster’s 38-8 defeat of the Dragons at Ravenhill, almost crowning his night with a late try from a typically abrasive carry.

It is obvious that he is itching to break into the Ireland starting line-up and although well suited to the impact role off the bench, he knows his best shot at a start is showing form and training well.

“Everyone is on the same page and everyone trains as equals. It’s not there are the starters and they need to do this and that. Everyone gets a run-in, everyone has to know their details.

“Everyone is on the same page so if we do get brought in, everyone knows – and should know – what is going on, so everyone knows and is prepared to come in anywhere they need to come in.”

Henderson added some energy and brute force to Ireland’s bid to overhaul England in the closing stages of last Saturday’s game in London.

“I came on and ball-carrying is one of my strengths and that is what I always try to do. I’m working on other aspects, but I came on and wanted to get my hands on the ball and tried to make a few gainlines, try and get a break and gets some points off that.”

As the Ireland squad regrouped from the 13-10 loss, the Ulster youngster was back on familiar turf this week as they ventured north to his home city of Belfast for a two-day training camp.

Mixing up the camp venues and environments – Schmidt’s charges were also in Clonmel recently having spent most of the Championship based at Carton House – is a welcome move from the players’ point of view.

During their down-time in County Tipperary there was a trip to the world famous Coolmore Stud, while the short stint in Belfast included a visit to the Titanic Belfast exhibition – a first even for local boy Henderson!

“It was my first time (at Titanic Belfast), we got a tour around and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were down in Clonmel too and it was a fair drive for us down to Tipperary. This time it’s a fair drive for them up to here!

“Training is very intense, meetings are intense. You go in the video room and everyone’s quiet on the computers, making notes.

“But definitely outside of that, guys like having fun, going to the cinema if you have a bit of down-time or a coffee or what-not – we had dinner in Shu on the Lisburn Road. The guys enjoy each other’s company.”

Thursday’s open training session saw Henderson and his Ireland team-mates train in front of a 1,000-strong crowd at Newforge Country Club, with pupils from his old schools – Ben Madigan Prep School and Belfast Royal Academy – watching on.

Having helped Belfast Royal Academy reach the 2010 Ulster Schools Senior Cup final, it is clear that he still has a strong affinity with the school.

Speaking at Newforge, Henderson commented: “BRA have some (students) here, there was a wee bus-load of them from there and Ben Madigan. I saw them too, so I’m going to go out and talk to them when I’m done.”