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Henderson: Our Blocks Of Work Are ‘More Intense, More Concentrated’

Henderson: Our Blocks Of Work Are ‘More Intense, More Concentrated’

Iain Henderson, Ross Byrne and Peter O'Mahony are pictured at the launch of the new Ireland Rugby World Cup jerseys, which are on sale now ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland’s Rugby World Cup preparations are in full flow. Andy Farrell’s men have been in camp for a few weeks now with their warm-up fixtures starting in just over three weeks’ time.

They play Italy in the Bank of Ireland Nations Series at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, August 5, followed by another home game against England two weeks later. Bayonne’s Stade Jean-Dauger is the venue for their August 26 clash with Samoa.

Buy Tickets For Ireland’s Bank Of Ireland Nations Series Matches At Aviva Stadium

These warm-up matches provide Farrell’s side with the opportunity to build momentum heading into their Rugby World Cup opener against Romania in Bordeaux on Saturday, September 9.

Having played at the 2015 and 2019 tournaments, Iain Henderson is well versed in World Cup preparations. The Ulster captain feels like good progress is being made with the pre-season training programme Ireland are currently undertaking, with a ‘two weeks on, one week off’ approach.

“The week off, it’s not a week off,” explained Henderson. “It’s just a week not in camp. We go away, everyone has their GPS units with them. We go back to our gyms and almost everyone, we split off into…the guys in Ulster, we train together and stay at home, a handful of guys from Leinster and Munster were out in Portugal so they trained out there together.

“So, you kind of break off and train in small groups, albeit getting what feels like a week off in terms of mental refreshment. It feels good.

“Those intense blocks in two weeks (here at the IRFU High Performance Centre), we’re in Monday to Friday the entire time and you can definitely see us implementing the fix-ups we’ve highlighted.”

Farrell was defence coach for Ireland’s 2019 World Cup campaign, the build-up to which included a heavy defeat to England and then a quarter-final exit in Japan. Learning from that experience, the approach this time has been more collaborative, led by the coaching staff and with input from the players.

Henderson explained: “It feels very different. We’ve started rugby a lot earlier. There was a lot of running in the last World Cup. By running I mean, like non-rugby-related, conditioning running.

“I feel like we’re getting a lot of our conditioning from a rugby environment, be it on the pitch or down there on the artificial pitch so there’s all those elements.

“It feels shorter this time, and the blocks of work that we’re doing feel way more intense. It’s more concentrated and it feels like we’re getting real buy-in over a short period of time, to then seeing massive improvements quickly.

“The last time (in 2019) it felt more elongated, like a staged build-up to it. It feels like the squad is in a good place. I feel like if we had to play this weekend we could play.”

Conditioning and the amount of time spent working in the gym remains an important facet of the modern game. There is usually a big emphasis put on it during training camps and pre-season phases.

Henderson, who recently signed a two-year IRFU contract extension, admits that strength work is still very important but the squad’s main focus at their Blanchardstown base has been on rugby itself.

We’re a lot more about rugby. I know that may sound silly but we’ve put a huge emphasis on rugby and being the best rugby team we can be, rather than being the best team in the gym or the best team on the pitch.

“Yes, you have to be fit and, yes, you have to be strong, but we feel like we’ve got a really good balance of doing both of those. Not making it the most difficult pre-season physically just for the sake of it to try and blow people out.

“But, at the same time, what we’re doing, there is a fair bit of fatigue. Long days, we’ve been in here since seven or so this morning.

“We’re being put through our paces. It’s mentally taxing, but at the same time when it comes around to working hard, we work hard physically in the gym and out on the pitch as well.”

The 72-times capped second row is itching for game-time having had an injury-disrupted last twelve months. A knee injury saw him miss last summer’s series win over New Zealand, with thumb surgery delaying his start to the 2022/23 season until November.

He was sidelined for the latter stages of Ulster’s campaign after fracturing his forearm during Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations victory over Scotland in March. He had a subsequent operation and is now clearly eager to build on this year’s Grand Slam success.

Farrell’s charges have won ten Test matches in a row, including that memorable Grand Slam-winning run. They will need that trend to continue in the autumn if they are to make history at the World Cup. Henderson said they are always striving to improve.

We’ve talked a fair bit this week around our defence. We’ve seen in the last number of campaigns that our attack has been able to break some teams down but our defence probably hasn’t been something that you would talk about.

“You wouldn’t look at Ireland of recent and be like, ‘they really turn teams over, they’re really strong in defence’. I think that’s something that we have been looking at and thinking that’s how we can make a point of difference and work on that.

“But, at the same time, not neglecting the work that has to go into your attacking game too and ensuring that we’re not taking that side of the game for granted, because that is a constant work-on for everyone throughout the squad to stay on top of that.”

The start of the Rugby Championship last week gave the Grand Slam champions a chance to gauge how South Africa, one of their Pool B opponents, are shaping up. Ireland’s first ever World Cup meeting with the Springboks takes place at the Stade de France on Saturday, September 23.

Henderson was impressed with South Africa’s 43-12 triumph over Australia in Pretoria last Saturday, noting: “They had a lot of players in there who wanted to lay a marker down and show that they want to be part of that Springboks squad.

“They’ll have a fair few difficult (selection) decisions in there. I think Australia got shocked by that a wee bit, definitely outmuscled, but that’s what you’re going to get from a South Africa team looking to put their hand up.”

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Craigavon-born forward is full of praise for the Ireland Under-20s who are gearing up to play France in tomorrow’s World Rugby U-20 Championship final in Cape Town (kick-off 7pm local time/6pm Irish time).

Reaching a global decider is a feat that the Ireland senior side are hoping to match in a few months’ time, and Henderson, who coincidentally played at the 2012 U-20 Championship which was also held in South Africa, has been in text contact with current U-20 head coach Richie Murphy.

“They’ve been going really well, fair play to them. It’s been phenomenal what they’re doing. It’s an incredibly tough time for them, and the resilience that the squad has shown is incredible and admirable.

“I really hope that they can get one more game under the belt and it will be a campaign that not many of them will probably forget for the rest of their lives,” he added.

Iain Henderson was speaking at the launch of Canterbury’s Ireland Rugby World Cup jerseys which will be worn by the Irish team in France this autumn. The jerseys are on sale now at Canterbury.com, and via Intersports Elverys, in store and on Elverys.ie.