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Fit and raring to go again, Henderson settling into leadership role in Ireland's lineout

The Ulster second row continues his partnership with James Ryan against Australia on Saturday.

HIS CAPTAIN FAILED to shake off a season-ending hamstring injury in time to make the plane, but Iain Henderson has made considerable progress in his comeback from a knee problem to continue his second row partnership with James Ryan on Saturday.

Henderson sustained the injury in Ulster’s Pro14 draw with Munster last month and missed the province’s crucial Champions Cup play-off win over Ospreys, but has proved his fitness in time to start the first Test against Australia in Brisbane [KO 11am Irish time, Sky Sports].

Iain Henderson Henderson pictured at Ireland's team hotel in Brisbane. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Since Ireland’s Grand Slam victory against England on St Patrick’s Day, Henderson has played just three games but has established himself as a key component of Ireland’s set-piece, particularly now that he is the primary lineout caller in his partnership with Leinster’s Ryan.

The 26-year-old will win his 39th international cap at the Suncorp Stadium and is chomping at the bit to return to action having worked harder over the last couple of weeks to be fit in time.

“It was always my goal. The squad was announced on the 23 May and I had my medical the day before that,” he said at the team hotel in Brisbane.

“I had been working quite hard with the IRFU and Ulster physios, just making sure that everything I was doing was pushing my progress to hit all those checkpoints and get me fit for the tour and for that deadline, so Joe could name me with confidence and not have to worry about potentially injuring myself between then and now.”

And Schmidt has had no hesitation in selecting Henderson from the off with the  Craigavon native again partnering Ryan, with the pair looking to build on the understanding they built up during the Six Nations campaign.

For Henderson, that has meant added responsibility alongside his 21-year-old team-mate, and most significantly the role of calling the lineout with Devin Toner named among the replacements.

“I do feel over the last 12 months, definitely, with the group we’re in, that calling the lineout has become more comfortable,” he continued. “I think that comes the more times you do it, the more matches you play with the same or a similar group of people.

“That’s half the battle, being comfortable doing it with the people you’re with. You only get comfortable with things the more times you repeat it. I’m more comfortable over the last 12 months.”

Continuity obviously played a big part in Ireland’s championship success, but Schmidt has opted to rotate for the first Test and in making six changes from Twickenham, has given the likes of Joey Carbery, Rob Herring, John Ryan and Jordi Murphy the chance to stake their long-term claim.

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Henderson sees it as a positive, with the forward pointing to the freshness which is coming into the side ahead of a first meeting with Michael Cheika’s Wallabies.

“Certain aspects feel like it’s a bit of a continuation, preparing in Ireland camp and it feels like you’re back into this way of life. It does feel a bit fresh too because it’s a completely different venue, competition, changes to the team.

Iain Henderson and Devin Toner during training Henderson in training Down Under this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There is a continuation but the freshness and it will definitely be nicer weather than when we last played. It’s a positive thing.”

On the challenge he expects from Australia, Henderson added: “Their rugby, first and foremost, the majority of the pack are playing in Super Rugby is quite different to how a lot of us would be playing our rugby back home. It’s quite a fast, attacking game with a lot of offloads and obviously playing a bit looser.

“That’s something we’ve got to expect and it will be better weather than what we are used to playing in, so we’ve got to expect a fast game and expect their forwards to be coming on hard lines.

“They have a few young guys in their pack who have looked relatively exciting for Australian rugby over the last season and then you have some of the older guys in the back row who pose massive threats for us and who were difficult for us the last time we played them in the autumn of 2016.

“I think they’ve got a good mix in their pack, the young guys will feed off the older guys, the couple in the back row who have been there for a good number caps. They’ll be looking to play exciting rugby rather than safe rugby and that’s something that is… not necessarily worrying but definitely something that could cause us problems.”

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