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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 13 December, 2018
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Another All Black win a 'reassurance' for Ireland team undaunted by expectation

There was a festive feel about Carton House, but Iain Henderson and Ireland are intent on steadily improving.

THE FAKE FIRS popped up all over Carton House while the hotel’s regular residents spent the weekend beating the back-to-back world champions.

The imposing garlands and numerous Christmas trees weren’t exactly going to dampen down the festive feel after Ireland made another bit of history with a first home win over New Zealand.

Iain Henderson Iain Henderson speaking at Carton House this afternoon. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Yet, there was a touch of the hangover feel around the Maynooth grounds too. After the heady highs of Saturday, media inquiries leaned into a sort of fear befitting the morning-after-the-night-before.

Fear for how Ireland can cope with the pressure of being top of the rugby… erm, tree. Fear for how they can back up Saturday’s performance and fear of how sickening it might feel if all this were to add up to another World Cup quarter-final exit.

Obviously, the mood was quite different from a player’s perspective, who are not built to be so fatalistic or pessimistic when there is so much to play for.

“That’s something which will just have to deal with as it comes along,” says Iain Henderson, tasked with addressing the media between the most anticipated game of the year and the visit of the USA.

“The performances leading up to the World Cup will probably indicate how we’re dealing with the expectation and pressure that you’re talking about.”

This group of players have been held – by their coaches and by one another – to the absolute highest standards for quite some time. Since Chicago, and most likely since the near miss against the All Blacks in 2013, they have had no reason to demand anything but a win against any team they face.

“If you look over the past number of seasons, there hasn’t been anyone we haven’t been able to beat,” adds Henderson.

“We knew in the back of our head that we’re able to it. It’s a reassurance in a way, you know if you put in the hard work that you will get rewards for it and the rewards are sitting there to be taken.

“The guys who started did a fantastic job, broke them down and New Zealand, for parts of it, weren’t sure what to do with the intensity of it.

“In terms of the expectation going forward, if the results match the amount of effort the boys put in, not just the 23 on the pitch, the whole squad and management, we’d be happy.”

Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale embrace after the game Henderson celebrates Ireland's win with Jacob Stockdale. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Henderson’s presence acted as a steadying influence as the bar for what this team can achieve shot up to dizzying heights. The Ulster lock had a coy smile when asked if a quiet Saturday night followed the 16-9 win.

“Yeah, nice meal after the game, few quiet glasses of wine, then back to the hotel for a few drinks there.”

The most sobering thought for the new year ahead is that this Ireland group won’t be sated by Saturday’s epic win or a 12-month window in which they have only lost one of their 11 Tests so far.

“There are things that we didn’t do right in the game,” says Henderson, who made a telling impact from the bench, ”it’s an old cliche, but there’s no such thing as a perfect game of rugby.

“We can continue to try to iron out the wee creases that pop up in games. We will definitely have work-ons in training this week.”

Internally, we know the quality of players we’ve got, we know the quality of training and quality of coaches we have and everything that’s done around us is done to the highest standard possible.

“Everyone’s trying to be the best, everyone’s striving to meet expectations. A win like that at the weekend is a bit of a payday, giving everyone a bit of thanks for all the effort that has been put in.”

A gift anyone would be grateful to receive.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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