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Dublin: 20 °C Wednesday 12 August, 2020

'I knew it, Joe knew it, everybody knew it' - Ireland's Hendo builds work rate

The 23-year-old lock says he has been working hard on his fitness.

THERE WAS AN image of Iain Henderson as a player who produced big moments of ball carrying or defensive impact, but then faded out of the game in between those peaks.

Is his work rate good enough? Is his conditioning at a high enough level to start Test matches?

Iain Henderson Henderson is into the Ireland starting XV for the weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Those were the question marks hanging over the young Ulsterman, who had excelled for Ireland at U20 level and always appeared destined for senior international stardom. The doubts have faded however, with Joe Schmidt now going out of his way to point to Henderson’s work rate.

From kick chase efforts to pacy covering lines, the Ireland head coach has been more and more impressed with the 23-year-old’s contributions. His reward for that improved work rate is a starting spot alongside Paul O’Connell tomorrow in the World Cup opener against Canada.

“I think it was more like an open topic,” said Henderson of his work rate.

“I knew it, Joe knew it, everybody knew it. I understand that that is a work-on for me. I’m sure other teams will pick up on it, as we pick up on other teams’ weaknesses and strengths.

It is something I’ve always had to work on and in doing so Jason Cowman, our S&C coach, has been putting me through my paces in the pre-season, trying to get me as fit as I can be.”

Henderson highlighted the work of Ulster’s S&C staff, namely Kevin Geary and Jonny Davis, for their role in his improved conditioning, pointing out that he has been working hard at it for much longer than the nine weeks of Ireland’s pre-season this summer.

Alongside the fitness growth, Henderson’s mindset looks altered, his awareness of the opportunity for a second involvement increased. The big carry is now followed by a barrel two rucks later, his destructive counter-ruck by a chase of the subsequent clearance kick.

After impressing in the two World Cup warm-up meetings with Wales, Henderson has now usurped previous second row incumbent Devin Toner.

Iain Henderson Henderson has been working hard on the training pitch. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I was happy with how my pre-season went personally and I was delighted that Joe had the confidence to choose me,” said Henderson at the Millennium Stadium following Ireland’s captain’s run this afternoon.

“I’m over the moon to get a start beside Paul O’Connell obviously and that’s a big, big boost for me. I’ll take great confidence from that as well.

“Joe has backed me, put me in the starting squad, and that’s a massive confidence booster for me. I can only try to take my opportunity as I’ve tried to take my opportunities in the past.

Hopefully that would be the grounding of me cementing a place in the starting team.”

Henderson says his family and friends are as excited as he is at the promotion into the XV, revealing that his brother has returned from Australia for the coming weeks to take it all in live.

The lock feels “comfortable” with captain O’Connell alongside him in the row, and also looks forward to testing himself against a player of the quality of Canada captain Jamie Cudmore.

Henderson is still learning the ropes on the international stage in a way, despite his extensive involvement in the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations triumphs. He looks to the manner in which O’Connell and Cudmore can control games as the next step in his progression.

“I think that’s hopefully coming,” said Henderson. “Playing with and against players like this, and hopefully the more and more time I get to play with these players, I can become players like them.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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