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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018

Henderson targets World Cup starts as excitement and fitness grows

The dynamic Ulsterman offers interesting options at lock and blindside flanker.

THE CALLS FOR Iain Henderson to be installed as a starter for Ireland continued to grow towards the end of last season, and the 23-year-old himself is targeting a place in the XV as the World Cup looms.

IrelandÕs  Iain Henderson supported by Rob Kearney Henderson may be part of the squad to face Wales next weekend. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

The 23-year-old was used off the bench in all five of Ireland’s games during this year’s Six Nations triumph, but his ambition and talent demand even more integral involvement.

While Henderson needs to show form in the World Cup warm-up fixtures, the opening Pool D clashes with Canada and Romania might provide him with starting chances in September.

“Having come off the bench in all the Six Nations games, I’d like to see myself trying to start a few games and trying to work my way into the starting squad,” said Henderson at Kingspan Stadium this week.

That’s obviously a realistic goal for me. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be able to do that, especially with the management of players making sure that everyone’s fit for every game.”

Outside of his personal ambitions, Henderson is confident this Ireland team can mix it with the very best.

“I think over the last number of seasons New Zealand’s the team that beat us at the very death. There’s no reason why we can’t beat South Africa, Australia or even for that matter, New Zealand.

Iain Henderson Henderson has been working hard on his fitness this summer. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“There’s no team in the World Cup that should be able to beat us if we’re on form on the day.”

While Henderson claims he and his teammates have had no indication as to what team will take to the pitch in Cardiff next Saturday against Wales for their first summer fixture, he know he wants to play as much as possible over the course of the four warm-ups.

“I feel I get better with the more games I play, so I would like to see myself get as much game time as possible before the World Cup,” said Henderson.

I was frustrated at the start of last season not getting a lot of game time due to injury and then the Six Nations.

“I was delighted to be involved in that, but I didn’t get a massive amount of game time in that either. Towards the end of the season getting full games in is what I find massive for me.”

The Ulsterman has, as always, been running at blindside flanker and in the second row over the five weeks of pre-season training with Joe Schmidt’s squad, all the while “getting a feel for the whole World Cup thing”.

The excitement has grown for Henderson ahead of his first World Cup, while his strength and conditioning has improved too.

Iain Henderson Henderson is Ulster's new away jersey. Source: PRESSEYE/Matt Mackey/INPHO

“It’s all been about getting fit and getting my scores up,” said Henderson of his pre-season focuses. “I’m constantly working on my fitness, I know it’s always a work-on for me. I’ve been trying to put good weight on and keep good weight on, keep that going.”

When we push for a few of his gym stats, Henderson deflects the attention towards his teammates and the clash with Wales.

Absolutely, I’m always setting records in the gym!” said Henderson.

“No, I wouldn’t be as strong as some of the bigger boys but everyone has been smashing the gym and getting good GPS speeds.

“It’s not even a week until the first game and it’s all coming together now. We’ve been doing some stuff separately, but everyone’s coming together now to get ready for game week and hopefully we can hit the ground running against Wales.”

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Murray Kinsella

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