Henderson gets first Ireland start since February as he resumes lineout calling

The 28-year-old has had a frustrating time with injury, suspension, and a medical issue.

Henderson hasn't started for Ireland in nearly 10 months.
Henderson hasn't started for Ireland in nearly 10 months.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ANDY FARRELL WOULD have seen Iain Henderson as being an integral and experienced part of his Ireland squad as his tenure got underway this year but it hasn’t quite gone to plan so far.

Between injury, suspension, and a medical issue, the Ulster captain’s most recent start for Ireland was all the way back on 8 February against Wales.

Henderson started the Six Nations wins against Scotland and the Welsh but injury ruled him out of the defeat away to England before Covid-19 put the championship on hold until recently.

Having battled back to fitness from a hip injury, the 28-year-old was set to feature at the beginning of this autumn schedule but then a red card while on Ulster duty in October saw him banned for three games.

Having served the suspension, Henderson was named in Ireland’s starting XV for the Autumn Nations Cup opener against Wales two weekends ago but was withdrawn at a late stage due to what he and the IRFU described as a “medical issue.”

The Ulsterman was back on the bench for last weekend’s visit to Twickenham, although the game was essentially over by the time he got onto the pitch. So there is plenty of lost time to make up for as Henderson starts on Sunday against Georgia.

“Look, I’ve had times in my career when I’ve been training away, trying to get things going more of your way and they don’t go your way, and it’s about trying to knuckle down and take your opportunity when you get it next,” says Henderson.

iain-henderson Henderson at Ireland training this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Fortunately, this weekend I’m getting an opportunity to start and that has been a focus of mine for a number of weeks now.”

Given his 56 caps of experience and with a Lions tour under his belt, Henderson is obviously a senior figure in this group – a role that he is happily embracing in an Ireland squad that looks rather different to this time a year ago.

“This squad has been absolutely fantastic so far,” says Henderson. “There’s been a lot of queries and questions. New players in, guys mightn’t know their roles as quickly as what they have done in the past which is 100% fine – there’s been a huge emphasis on an atmosphere of ‘nobody can ask a wrong question.’

“I think that’s something that I’ve maybe been facilitating and answering questions – hopefully putting them at ease and giving them a bit more clarity, not having them worrying or panicking about it, if you know what I mean.

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“I’m trying to give them as much peace of mind going into the weekend as possible because I know all the players in this squad have played incredibly well for their provinces.

“The players who have been in Ireland camp for a while can make them as calm and composed as possible so that they can do what they’ve shown, but in a green jersey… or a black and yellow jersey! [Ireland wear an alternate strip this weekend.]”

Henderson comes back in as the lineout caller too, with captain James Ryan having carried out that duty last weekend on a day where the Irish lineout was very poor.

iain-henderson Henderson has resumed calling the Ireland lineout. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Henderson was Ireland’s first-choice caller when playing alongside Ryan earlier this year in those two Six Nations games, so it’s no great surprise that he resumes the job.

“I came back in this week and have been calling in the sessions,” says Henderson.

“Obviously, Cheese [Ryan] has a fair bit on his plate there and he’s happier for me to do that.

“We’ve had chats, Cheese and I work quite well together.

“So he’s happy enough that I take that off him there and I look forward to it, we’ve had a very good week’s training and simplified a few things down from last week. We took a bit of the detail out of it and are getting guys to back themselves and execute.”

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