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Iain Henderson learning fast as headmaster's lessons hits home

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Adjusting to the ways of Joe Schmidt can take some time it seems, but by the sounds of things, it doesn't take long to learn what the Ireland coach expects of his players.

Having missed the November internationals, Iain Henderson found out all about the New Zealander in the spring and despite being warned by his team-mates about what was coming, he still had to learn the hard way.

A former headmaster, Schmidt expects his players to have their homework done and for them to turn up for work ready to go.

"He caught me a good few times at the start when I was a little off guard," the young Ulster second row said.

"I'd heard people talking about it. I was injured during the November series and I missed that and I heard people talking about the detail required from the likes of Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson and all the boys who were down.

"I wasn't quite prepared or hadn't realised exactly what it was like and during the Six Nations games it came as a bit of a shock, whereas now I've had a whole Six Nations of it, so I knew what I was getting myself into.

"It just ensures you've got everything nailed off and come match day, it makes you feel so much more comfortable about yourself.

"You might be a wee bit less comfortable during the week in training, you might be a bit nervous, but come match day, you know your detail because there's no other options during the week.

"It's all about detail with Joe, make sure everything is nailed off. There's no point in turning up to training if you don't know what your plays are.

"You need to make sure you've done all your homework on yourself and the opposition, you've watched your training sessions just past, you know what they're going to be like, you know what their line-outs are, you know what their plays are. It's very intense and I think it's fantastic."

Schmidt is clearly a fan of the 22-year-old who already has 11 caps and was so impressive for Ulster in recent months.

Still, there is room for improvement and the coach has a clear idea of what the powerful lock needs to do.

"He's making progress, but, it's funny, you look at Donnacha Ryan or Devin Toner, there is something about the age of 26, 27 that a second-row starts to really develop into the type of player who can compete internationally," Schmidt said.

"To fast track someone like Iain Henderson as a kid is difficult for the player himself and the things we demand of him.

"If Paul O'Connell's down or takes a knock and Iain has to suddenly call a line-out, he's got to know those line-outs inside out, he's got to read the defence that the Argentinians are putting up.

"Those are the unseen aspects that are a real challenge for somebody like Iain who is a natural ball-carrier, a naturally powerful kid."

The difficulty presented to Henderson is the quality of second-row partner he regularly packs down with.

When you have O'Connell, Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy alongside you, why would you call the line-out?

"If Johann goes off and Dan's on, Dan will be calling, so you mightn't get the opportunity to do that," he explained.

He might not get the full whack this week, with Devin Toner likely to come in, but Henderson's progress continues apace as he adapts to the ways of the headmaster.

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