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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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After long rehab and amateur mechanics, Henderson's ready to smash back into Ireland team

The Ulster forward made his presence felt on his return from injury on Saturday.

THE BEARD IS gone, the boy is back.

Not that anybody leaving Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night could have referred to 22-year-old Iain Henderson as a boy. Indeed, some Leicester Tigers might have been forgiven for wondering if he was even human.

Iain Henderson Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Where has he been? Well, he had to wait six months between games after having surgery on his labrum [in his hip socket] early this season, a procedure which involved having a little bit of bone chipped out of his body.

Though there’s a perception that injury rehabilitation – particularly in something as restrictive as a hip – can leave players bored stiff, Henderson has found his schedule fully stacked.

“Your time is filled to the brim with stuff. Whether it’s physio or getting extra rehab sessions, or in the gym twice a day, in the meetings the players are in.

Or, towards the back end of my injury when you are starting to get back out on the pitch, you’re actually working with the team and maybe running the opposition line-outs with the team and stuff like that…”

It sounds like a full schedule. Yet over the course of six months out there were still a few hours left to occupy idle hands and get his head out of the considerable slog of the physio room and it’s torturous arsenal of foam rollers and SERF straps. There was the beard, of course – though it wasn’t exactly a case study in male grooming – more of a project was the car Henderson decided to work on. And he enlisted the help of Andrew Trimble in his stint as an amateur mechanic.

“With the assistance of our tutor we replaced a clutch in my classic Mini, so I did,” he says as he towers above the press pack in Carton House.

“The fingers are just about getting right from it trying to get it. We enjoyed it and it was something that got us away from spending hours on end in the gym. It was something we could get at, something we could go away and get our heads showered. Obviously Trimby has been out for a good while so we needed something to get our head away.”

The Ulster forward was no doubt speaking with an assurance and confidence buoyed by his astounding first appearance of the season. His display in the Champions Cup win over Leicester was remarkable for the impact – in a very real sense – he was able to make after half a year without a game. His hour on the pitch serving as a quick documentary revealing just what Ulster have been missing this season.

Not since Stephen Ferris blasted his way back into the Pro12 against Scarlets last year has anyone looked so hungry for impact. For Henderson, it certainly beats the alternative:

“If you are stuck in a gym with Kevin Geary [Ulster S&C coach] for seven months, pretty much, you will do anything to get back out there. I was looking forward to contact tackling, getting stuck in, getting the white jersey back on again and it was absolutely brilliant.”

Iain Henderson and Mike McComish Leading from the front: The hirsute Henderson lays a foundation to let Ruan Pienaar play. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

There could have been no doubting Henderson enjoyed himself, not with gainline after gainline being made and bodies left strewn in his wake.

“I wouldn’t say I found it easy. I was absolutely punctured by the end of it, definitely. I came off after 58 minutes or so. Had I gone any longer, my performance may have started to dip down a wee bit.

“I’m never happy to come off, however I had played a bit longer than I was due to play. So I was getting a wee bit excited I was getting a wee bit extra. I knew my game time was limited given I hadn’t played since last June 14 against Argentina.”

The date is imprinted on his mind. But once he gets an outing with the Wolfhounds out of the way on Friday, he can focus on another date: February 7, when Ireland open the defence of the Six Nations title in Rome.

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Sean Farrell

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