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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Henderson: Everyone’s Champing At The Bit To Play

Henderson: Everyone’s Champing At The Bit To Play

Iain Henderson said that Ireland’s ability to pull through against France despite losing Jonathan Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony to injury was honed on the training pitch, as competition for places grows ever stiffer.

Having their out-half, captain and a man-of-the-match contender sidelined during the first 54 minutes of the Cardiff clash could have derailed Ireland’s bid to close out the pool stages with a fourth straight win.

However, their replacements – Ian Madigan, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry – delivered in spades as injury-hit Ireland rose to the occasion with a superb collective performance in the second half to emerge as 24-9 winners.

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Henderson, who missed out on a starting place for the game, is really thriving at his first Rugby World Cup. He extended his string of powerhouse performances in green with an abrasive 40-minute cameo, driving the 17-and-a-half stone Bernard le Roux five yards backwards in one eye-catching incident.

Asked about filling Paul O’Connell’s boots and making an impact as a replacement, he said: “Coming off the bench is difficult at the best of times. It’s very difficult to get up to speed with the game.

“Coming on at half-time was obviously earlier than I thought it was going to be, but I spoke earlier in the week with Joe (Schmidt) and I knew that when I came on, I have to fit in immediately.

“From my point of view, I’ve just got to try to add something to the game and get the ball in my hands. I managed to knock it on a couple of times but got the ball in my hands and tried to make an impact defensively as well.

“Paulie is off for a scan now. Obviously it’s not looking good but fingers crossed. We don’t know what’s going to happen. If there’s an opportunity there, I’ll definitely try and rise to the challenge.”

That Ireland were shorn of three talismen and 198 Test caps’ worth of experience and still came away with their biggest margin of victory over France since 1975 shows the strength in depth currently at Schmidt’s disposal.

Henderson highlighted that the squad’s resilience in overcoming those setbacks yesterday ‘starts on the training pitch’.

“Everyone’s champing at the bit. Everyone wants to put their hand up to get selected and are always trying to prove their worth,” he insisted.

“When players don’t get as much opportunity as you’d like, to get an opportunity off the bench when there might be something going wrong, players can put their hands up and say, ‘I’m ready to start here’.”

Emphasising the squad effort, the Ulster youngster added: “We had our targets and at the start of the week we knew how tough it was going to be for the whole team, not only the starting team but the bench too.

“We understand that the tournament can’t be won with only a matchday 15 or even a 23. It’s going to take the whole squad to win a tournament. We’ve got our initial target of topping the group and now we’re looking forward to Argentina next weekend.”

It was confirmed this morning that Peter O’Mahony will miss the rest of the World Cup with a knee ligament injury, while the Irish management are waiting on scan results for O’Connell (hamstring) and Jonathan Sexton (groin).

Commenting on what an inspirational figure O’Connell is to him personally, Henderson said: “I started off playing against him. He’s an absolute nightmare to play against. He’s a brilliant lineout forward, his work-rate around the pitch is phenomenal.

“Coming in to start training with him, I learnt a massive amount about how professional he is and playing alongside him is fantastic. He drives you around the pitch. His work-rate inspires you and pushes you harder and further than you think you could go.”