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Henderson taking 'cut-throat' analytical approach to size up his own performance

Between maths and the mechanics of a line-out, there’s plenty to keep the Ulster lock’s brain occupied.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A MATHEMATICS STUDENT in his off-field life, there aren’t too many on-field situations which cause Iain Henderson to cross his study and rugby wires.

In the analysis room however, Ireland’s coaches make sure to boil down certain nuggets into cold, hard and inescapable numbers.

“It is difficult to take emotion out of playing the game because I love playing for Ulster and Ireland,” Henderson said after training in Maynooth yesterday.

“You have to have some sort of cut-throat instinct when looking at your performance, analysing yourself, making sure what you have done: ‘is it good enough? Are the impacts good enough? Or have you made the impacts?’

“A lot of it is put into stats for us. I don’t mind going through it and figuring out whether I have bettered myself from my previous performance. A lot of it does come down to being brutally honest with yourself and having the stubbornness almost to push yourself through, looking at how badly you did things.

“Realistically, it is the bad things you have to concentrate to get better. You can flick through to all your tackles made, your good ones, your carries, your line-out takes…

“It does take a bit of effort to sit down and analyse yourself. It has to be done. If you don’t correct the things you do wrong, you won’t get better. You learn that from top level players, watching them look at their mistakes to better themselves.”

Robbie Henshaw and Iain Henderson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ultan Dillane’s surgery means competition for the second row is just a little less intense this week. Yet the workload remains consistent for Henderson, Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner. The line-out is a mechanical segment to the game, but there’s room for a little statistical analysis from Henderson’s vantage point too.

“That’s about weighing up which one will work better,” the 25-year-old says when discussing the thought process around not contesting line-outs close to your own try-line.

A line-out steal, which you might only get 10% of the time against staying on the ground where they will only score 10% of the time.”

“It you have a lead of four points, you don’t want to give a try away whereas you mightn’t necessarily mind giving a penalty away.

“However, if they go up in the air and they get their maul set and you don’t get down to sack it, Wales – they’ve got good mauls going – will definitely be likely to take points from you there.

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“If you stay in the ground, you are ready to smash into it and defend the maul with everything you’ve got. You weigh up your options and make them play out of it.”

Forwards coach Simon Easterby and Henderson expect Wales to put men in the air and contest their fair share of line-out ball, taking a leaf out of Scotland’s defensive set-piece. With the ball in their own hands, they have sent a considerable amount of ball to their loose forwards, leaving their locks ready to do some grunt work on the ground.

“Justin Tipuric is a massive threat at the front, he is very athletic and he can be up almost in a single lift and have somebody chasing around the back of it. It gets them good quick ball at the front. Sam Warburton is an athletic guy, I’m sure he is easy to lift and he gets up very fast.

“They get good quick ball and maul a fair bit off it as well. It depends on your personnel. Alan Wyn Jones has taken a good bit of ball, Jake Ball not so much but it is only a matter of time.

“We have analysed what they do in certain areas of the field, whether it is a four-man or five-man, six or seven maybe further up the pitch. They have a good variety, we have been looking at the patterns emerging, not just in the championship but in November.

“It’s good to be picking out trends and patterns.”

Perhaps there’s more crossover between Henderson’s Open University efforts and professional career than he’s letting on.

Source: The42 Rugby Show/SoundCloud

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Sean Farrell

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