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All Black victory 'another rung on the ladder' for Ireland side full of leaders

Iain Henderson can see traits worth following throughout the squad.

ONE PLAYER’S NAME kept coming back to Iain Henderson as he attempted to sum up the core element of what makes this Ireland team function so well.

Bundee Aki and Will Addison Will Addison tackled by Bundee Aki in training at Carton House last week Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Will Addison isn’t an outlier. Indeed, given he is one of the newest arrivals to the squad, some might expect him to need extra time to bed into the culture and minutiae of details required in a Joe Schmidt setup.

But the example Henderson points to relates to how well-prepared Addison was to start against Argentina, even though the role that was not thrust his way until a pre-match warm-up injury took down Robbie Henshaw.

“(Addison) probably could have taken the foot off the accelerator a bit on Tuesday afternoon when he realised he wasn’t going to be in the 23, eased off and wind down for the week,” says Henderson.

“Whereas, he stayed on the ball, trained really well all week and that’s what Joe likes to see. Joe likes to see people putting in that extra effort and then he is rewarded on matchday and has a good performance.”

Addison’s diligence was one small part of this November Test window, but it speaks to the wider ethos in the squad.

The 26-year-old newcomer with a Cumbrian accent showed a brand of leadership in that week.

Every member of this squad is empowered to lead in some form: Rob Kearney is imperious in the back-field, CJ Stander never shirks the need to do a task at 100%, Bundee Aki is magnificently confrontational, Rory Best is a calm and measured voice as captain while his vice-captains Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton simmer with venomous intent throughout their time on the field.

Bundee Aki, Iain Henderson and Sean Cronin celebrate at the final whistle Henderson and Aki celebrate the final whistle. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Who would you not expect to be a leader and I’ll let you know if they’re a leader or not,” came a pointed response from Henderson when asked to name a player we might not expect to lead from within the ranks.

“I think most of the players in the squad show qualities; taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, or really having outstanding acts in games stuff like that.

“Or training well. Because if you don’t train well or prepare well you probably wouldn’t last a huge amount of time in this squad.

“And yes, there are maybe players who come in and don’t train well or don’t prepare well and then they learn from leaders like Rory, Johnny, Pete. They see how they train and how they prepare, they see they study the opposition and how they understand all the roles in any patterns, line-outs, plays, and then all of a sudden that’s like a filtering down process… I think that is what a good leader is, creates new leaders around him.”

A name is put to Henderson, Garry Ringrose — the boy next door, the nice guy smiling politely to one and all while holding himself impeccably — the man who was pointing fingers and laying down the law in the pre-match huddle and knitted a steely defensive back-line together throughout the 80 minutes.

Garry Ringrose Ringrose looks to pass against New Zealand. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“Garry is probably a perfect example of what I’m talking about there,” agrees Henderson, “maybe he came in still very young, quiet, but yet has grown into this position. (He) has become such an incredible player for Ireland and someone who, no matter who it is against, no matter what position he is playing, he is going to put in a really solid performance.

“If I see Garry’s name on the team-sheet I know automatically he is going to put in a performance. For me, that’s a quality, a style of leadership that he will instill confidence in all the players around him, that he is going to do the job to the best of his ability.”

He adds: “It’s a group of people who are constantly doing acts to better the team and I think that has filtered down through Rory.”

Henderson had his own brand of leadership on display in a fantastically physical final 20 minutes of the knife-edge Test against the All Blacks. Up for Monday media duties would suggest he will get a chance to show those traits from the start against the USA next Saturday.

Iain Henderson with Kieran Read Henderson meets Kieran Read. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

But there is plenty of time for the rest of us to dwell on a sweet success. Henderson was kept out of the 2016 win in Soldier Field with a shoulder injury and he was unfortunate to miss out on a Lions Test last summer despite some stellar performances once the tour heated up. 

His first victory over the All Blacks was fuelled by the sense of how rare it is to have the chance to topple the top team in the world. Carpe Diem.

Opportunities to play them do not come around that often, never mind opportunities to beat them. That was something everyone at the weekend wanted to grab and hold onto.

“Even going back to 2013, I wasn’t involved in that game either, that was a tight enough one that potentially could have went our way. However, that is only three games that players have been chomping at the bit to play in. Everyone wants a shot at the title holder, and they are obviously the best team in world rugby, so everyone is delighted to get the opportunity to play them.”

Not everyone agrees that the game’s pecking order is so obvious now. With New Zealand beaten twice in the space of two years, a giddy excitement sprung up overnight across Ireland and the World Cup goal suddenly became outright victory rather than making it beyond the quarter-finals for once.

The expectation is nothing to faze this group. They are the ones who built this hype, adding cornerstones like back-to-back Six Nations titles, wins in South Africa, Australia, a Grand Slam in Twickenham and now a second win to dispel so much of the fearsome myth and aura that surrounds the All Blacks.

“I think winning at the weekend isn’t just the thing that’s increased the targets on our backs or increased what people think of us, it’s been mounting for a while.

“I think it was just another rung in the ladder maybe at the weekend.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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