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Willing 'servant' Henderson has form and athleticism to shine on rugby's biggest stage

Joe Schmidt has picked the Ulster lock on form, but Devin Toner’s body of work will keep Henderson on his tones.

IAIN HENDERSON WILL win his 20th international cap in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup opener against Canada on Saturday.

Cian Healy, Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

His 2012 debut under Declan Kidney already feels like an awfully long time ago yet his World Cup bow will be just his sixth Test as a starter. The imposing Ulster lock (or back row depending on who you ask) has a case to be a regular starter that is only getting stronger with each passing week.

The 23-year-old’s presence in a starting XV that looks very close to Schmidt’s preferred line-up underlines the esteem Schmidt holds him in. And even though his personality may come across as a contrast to his second row partner and captain, Paul O’Connell certainly shares the admiration.

“We were struggling in that first half in that Ulster game (at the end of the Pro12 season), Keith Earls kicked ahead and to me it looked like a try.

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“I was ready to start walking to the halfway line, but Iain Henderson read it incredibly well and then had the pace to match Earlsy over the line.”

Iain Henderson with Keith Earls Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Schmidt didn’t dwell long on his reasons for selecting the 6’6″ Ulsterman over the 6’11″ Leinster lock, but sounds like a coach only too happy to have that sort of selection quandary every week:

Iain Henderson is playing very well. At the same time, you go back the last two seasons and Devin Toner has done fantastically well for us. I know there’s going to be a real contest around that second row position and hopefully everyone stays sound and keeps those headaches at the forefront of our thinking.”

O’Connell sees more than a dominant physical presence in common between the two front-runners to join him in the engine room of Ireland’s pack.

“He’s a very laid back guy, Hendy. A little bit like Dev actually; any more laid back and they’d be lying down. But he’s a terrific athlete. You just can’t coach some of the things he has in terms of his power, his speed, he reads the game really well…

Iain Henderson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He’s played in a lot of really big games with Ulster and he’s very confident in his own ability. He has a great relationship with Besty, he’s kind of Besty’s servant around the place: if Besty needs someone to throw line-out balls to, Hendy is always there. They’ve a great relationship.

“And he doesn’t take any looking after. He’s a very confident guy, a laid-back guy, but I think when it comes to the matches you can really see what he’s made of.”

It’s all set up for one of those familiar O’Connell v Cudmore rematches, but there’s a prodigy alongside Ireland’s captain who is capable of physically upstaging them both.

Cudmore captains Canada against Ireland as Ospreys’ Ardron misses out

Schmidt hopeful Henshaw’s hamstring injury will heal before Romania

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Sean Farrell

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