Dublin: 14°C Thursday 28 October 2021

Henderson back fit and firing after 'mighty frustrating' double injury lay-off

The Ulster second row is ready to return to Ireland’s engine room against France on Sunday week.

Ryan Bailey reports from Queen’s University, Belfast

AS IAIN HENDERSON made his way into one of the meeting rooms inside the impressive Queen’s University sports complex, the process to unravel and remove all of the strapping on his hands began.

It took him the duration of a 10-minute interview to undo the various support tape around his fingers, wrists and legs, leading Joe Schmidt — who was next up in the top table seat — to quip about the mess his second row had left behind. 

Iain Henderson Henderson in action during today's session in Belfast. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s not uncommon for forwards to train and play with strapping, particularly around the thighs of lineout jumpers, but Henderson’s recent injury frustration means extra protection has been added to his kit bag.

Having made the decision to go under the knife and clean up an ongoing thumb issue before Christmas, Henderson was initially ruled out for 10 weeks and while he made an earlier-than-expected comeback, another setback was waiting around the corner.

No sooner had he returned to star in Ulster’s Heineken Champions Cup win over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in January, Henderson was forced to have another operation on a fresh finger injury. 

The decision to rectify the original issue, which dated back to the 2015 World Cup, was made with next September’s tournament very much in mind but the second injury meant Henderson was ruled out of Ireland’s opening two Six Nations games.

His impressive healing powers meant he was back to fitness in time to come off the bench during Ireland’s round three win in Rome last weekend, and now he’s pushing for a starting berth against France on Sunday week.

“It has been great,” he says. “Just a bit of precautionary strapping for a couple of weeks now so it gets as much support and stability as it needs, but I have had no problems with it, no problem training, gym, rugby, nothing.”

Henderson credits the Ulster medical staff, strength and conditioning coaches and his surgeon for their work in getting him back on the pitch quicker than originally forecast.

“It healed quicker than I thought, yeah,” he continued. “Just constant work at it every day, getting it moving, getting range back and getting strength through both finger and thumb. It has been 100% since.

“Both times when the surgeon went in to have a look he said it was the correct decision to have it [surgery] done now because having two dislocated joints sitting there wobbling around isn’t ideal, and the finger sort of had a small fracture on the outside of it as well.

Iain Henderson is tackled by Alessandro Zanni Henderson came off the bench in Rome. Source: Inpho

“I saw no reason why I would not get it fixed when he [the surgeon] reckoned I had a ticking time bomb in my hand and then you’re waiting for it to break or dislocate again.”

The timing of the layoff was particularly frustrating for Henderson given the other injuries in Ireland’s second row department, with Devin Toner [ankle] and Tadhg Beirne [knee] also missing the opening rounds of championship action.

Schmidt called upon Connacht pair Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux last time out but after coming off the bench in Rome to win his 43rd cap, Henderson is set to be recalled to the starting XV at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.

“I was more keen to get back than anything else, I was keen to get back playing as quickly as I could for Ulster to give me every opportunity to get back in the mix for the Six Nations with Ireland,” the 27-year-old says.

It is kind of frustrating because with the first injury I was told it was going to be 10-12 weeks and to work so hard to get back in time for the start of the Six Nations, and then all of your efforts over five or six weeks it is all geared towards that first game back.

“And then towards the end of that game another one [finger] pops out and you are sitting there going back to square one and expecting that to be over, back to the surgeon, back to the gym and all that running you do during that period.

“When you are not able to do contact work it is mighty frustrating but I suppose it’s part of parcel of what it is and I have had enough injuries in my time to know what to expect.”

Henderson took a full part in Friday’s open training session in Belfast, where he had his wife and young daughter in attendance, as Schmidt’s side concluded a three-day camp up north at Queen’s.

The players will have a weekend off to rest up ahead of the final two rounds, with Ireland due to reconvene at their Carton House base on Monday evening to begin preparations for France.


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Iain Henderson Henderson is fit and ready to go. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

After three substandard performances, Henderson and Ireland will be looking for a big response against Les Bleus in Dublin. 

“For us, we mark ourselves on our own standard, we know that coming off the pitch whether we’ve done ourselves justice as a squad or an individual,” he added.

“I think moving forward it’s ensuring that when you come off the pitch, you’ve done the best possible, that you’ve bettered yourself, left nothing on the field.

“Boys will have been asking themselves questions over that but everyone intends to do as best as they can and get better each game. We want to learn from what’s gone in past games.

“There are not many Tests before the World Cup starts but for us, it’s about building game-on-game.”

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to discuss the backlash to World Rugby’s league proposal, captaincy styles, sports psychology and more in The42 Rugby Weekly.

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Ryan Bailey

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