Fit-again forward Iain Henderson hopes to make his long-awaited return to international rugby for the Ireland Wolfhounds against England Saxons in Cork on Friday.
Iain Henderson has had a frustrating 2014/15 season to date, with hip surgery and a subsequent hamstring issue seeing him sidelined for seven months.
Thankfully, he was able to return last Saturday to make his seasonal debut in Ulster’s 26-7 European Champions Cup victory at home to Leicester Tigers.
That successful run-out at blindside flanker will have boosted the 22-year-old’s confidence as he now sets his sights on playing his way back into Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt’s plans for the RBS 6 Nations.
With the Ireland Wolfhounds’ clash against England Saxons this week an obvious target, Henderson said: “Obviously I’m just back in the mix last weekend with Ulster. It’s good to get more game-time under my belt and hopefully that will go well for me, stay injury free. I was away for a good while, so (I want to) get back in the mix and get game-time under my belt and try push for selection.
“Wolfhounds games are always an opportunity. I’ve played in them the last couple of years and ended up in the (Six Nations) squad the last couple of years.
“For me, that shows me this is a game where if people take their opportunity, they get their reward from it and there is no reason why the rest of the players shouldn’t think that if they’re playing in this game there is a potential place for them in the Six Nations squad.”
Henderson paired up with his Ulster team-mate Dan Tuohy in the second row twelve months ago as the Ireland Wolfhounds came away from Kingsholm with a 14-8 win, before playing four times during Ireland’s Six Nations title-winning run – including a start at home to Italy.
The 12-times capped Henderson, who made his third start for Ireland against Argentina last June, says the knowledge that players have made the step up from the Wolfhounds to the senior team is not lost on the 46 players who are currently in camp at Carton House.
“A lot of the boys take a lot of confidence that they’re down here (in camp), running the plays for the Six Nations, knowing that they have to know their details for the Six Nations,” he admitted.
“They are realising that if you are down here at this stage, everyone is in contention. Everyone is no more than a maximum one or two injuries away from having a spot in the Six Nations squad.
“A lot of boys do take a lot of confidence from the likes of myself, Craig Gilroy, who has played some Six Nations games and Luke Marshall, the season past, and Paddy Jackson who has come out of the Wolfhounds teams and then being moved up to the Six Nations squad.
“Maybe not for the first game or second game but maybe a few games into the campaign when a few injuries start coming through.”
Following a labrum (cartilage in the hip) repair and some bone shaved off at the top of his hip joint, the Ulster youngster went through an arduous recovery period. A hamstring injury added to his woes, leaving him with seven months in the gym with Kevin Geary, Ulster Rugby’s strength & conditioning coach.
But Henderson overcame that ‘hill’, as he calls it, with a keen eye on adding to his 12 Ireland caps. Time is not a luxury he can afford in building his performances to try and stake a claim for a place in the senior matchday squad. All roads lead to the Wolfhounds in Cork this weekend.
He added: “It’s very good to have in the back of your mind (that you have played for Ireland previously). I know Joe trusted me last year and the year before I was involved as well. It is good to know coaches have backed you before so it gives you a bit of confidence going into these games.
“It is whoever takes the opportunity this weekend. We are not sure what will happen in terms of that, whether I’ll cover back row on the bench or whether I’ll not be involved at all because I have only played 58 minutes (for Ulster) so far this season.
“Contention for those (Six Nations) spots aren’t even being considered. They will all be considered after the Wolfhounds week, so we’ll just get our heads knuckled down for this strong Saxons team this weekend.”