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Hendy looks forward to injury-free New Year

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 23/12/2015

Life of Iain: A reflective Iain Henderson has been looking back at some of the highs and lows of 2015
Life of Iain: A reflective Iain Henderson has been looking back at some of the highs and lows of 2015

Iain Henderson may be spending the final days of 2015 on the sidelines but when Ulster's star forward looks back on the year, he'll reflect on a breakthrough 12 months.

Currently nursing a hamstring injury that could see him out for up to six months, Les Kiss will be anxious to see the flanker back in action after a World Cup to remember saw Henderson attract the attention of the rugby world with a series of barnstorming performances on the big stage.

His try-scoring effort against Canada, on the back of crossing the whitewash against Wales in a warm-up, caught the eye but it was his all-action display versus Italy in the Olympic Stadium that saw him really shine.

For a side dealing with the retirements of Ronan O'Gara, Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell in consecutive years, it seemed a new star was emerging, even if such feats had been seen for Ulster with increasing frequency since his return from hip surgery in January.

For the man himself though, the tournament remains something of a bittersweet memory after the quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina.

"I look back on the World Cup now and it was massively frustrating," he said.

"The highs of the France game and the lows of Argentina. Some of the boys said that the noise in the Millennium Stadium that day we played France was the loudest they'd ever heard so it was great to be a part of that.

"Argentina was just a soul-destroyer. You let it get to you for a while afterwards but you have to drive on."

Doing so proves difficult for the 23-year-old, a man who still regularly harks back to his and Stuart Olding's Belfast Royal Academy side losing the 2010 Schools' Cup final to Ballymena Academy.

"I replay it time and time again in my mind," he recently told Rugby World Magazine.

"It comes back to me every day I'm in Ravenhill. Callum Patterson scored the winning drop goal. I can still see it."

Back then, it seemed that may be the sum of his career at the home of Ulster Rugby, the then-number 8 having not appeared at Schools' level for his province let alone for Ireland.

He admits that his carefree attitude made it hard to stand-out.

"I'm quite laid-back and maybe I didn't take it as seriously as I should have," he admitted.

"That could have been a part of it. When they're looking at large groups of school kids maybe that's how I got caught out.

"Other fellas were hungrier than me. I've been told I don't have a great attention span."

A late call-up into the Ulster Academy prompted a change in direction, to Queen's for a maths degree when he had planned to study actuary in Edinburgh, but his potential remained untapped.

When his Ulster debut came against Munster just over three years ago, it was the intervention of a senior professional that set him on the track to Test success.

"I started to get some games for Ulster and fell under the wing of Chris Henry," he recalls.

"He was one of the more senior players and he talked me through training. We were gym partners.

"Anything I didn't understand about the plays and life in a professional rugby team he let me know. He told me when I had to be switched on and when I could daydream. Chris was huge for me.

"That was 2012 … my concentration span is getting better.

"The following season was when Stevie Ferris got his injury. His ankle op didn't go to plan and I got a couple more starts.

"I started to feel a bit more comfortable. I was getting on the ball a lot and learning a lot from Johann Muller.

"I was picking up bits and pieces from lots of players and adding them to my armoury."

With Ireland, Henderson has adopted a similar approach since making his debut against South Africa during Declan Kidney's final autumn in charge.

Some 23 caps later and Henderson still finds himself looking around at the habits of others and, at the World Cup, could see no better mentor than his then captain Paul O'Connell.

"I only had five or six caps for Ulster when Declan brought me down to get the gist of what camp life was like. I was covering second row and back and I got my cap and that was a massive shock to me," he says.

"(Now) with Joe Schmidt you have to know all the detail and if you're not nailed on he'll call you out.

"He'll say it in front of everybody. I think everybody is scared of being called out so publicly and it does drive standards.

"It's a harsh but very effective of making sure everybody is nailed on.

"I looked at Paulie and learnt about his professionalism, not only on the field but off the field.

"His diet, sleep, the way he looked after himself, his preparation for meetings, walk-throughs, training.

"The extra few per cent, it's only small things but they all add up."

After all his injuries, Henderson will only hope that 2016 offers more frequent opportunities to show what he's learned.

Belfast Telegraph

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