Iain Henderson: Ireland's poor start saw the chance to make Rugby World Cup history slip away
Iain Henderson admitted that history slipped through Ireland's fingers yesterday after they crashed out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage with a heavy defeat to Argentina.
The side were hotly tipped to be the first from this island to make it to a semi-final of the competition but, just as they have on five previous occasions, faltered in the last eight.
Argentina were by far the superior side in the Millennium Stadium, even if a final score of 20-43 belied a game that could have been level on the hour mark had Ian Madigan's penalty attempt stayed true, and Henderson admitted that the defeat was one that would likely prove hard to stomach moving forward.
When asked if it felt like a huge opportunity had been wasted, he replied: "Definitely. I think that's the thing that's hardest to take.
"That's why people are the most disappointed."
Having topped the group, and subsequently avoided the more daunting challenge of New Zealand in their first knock-out fixture, Ireland felt they could dare to dream of date in Twickenham this weekend with a final place on the line.
Similar to four years ago however, when they beat Australia to top their pool but then lost to Wales in the last eight, it was not to be and Henderson called on the team to learn from the familiar failing.
"Obviously there are boys that were here last time, topping the group and losing a quarter-final that you were so confident going into, but we can learn from it, move on and look towards the Six Nations."
Clearly dejected, the 23-year-old was more expansive than most in a similar situation but refused to offer any excuses for the earlier than anticipated exit.
Ireland went into the contest without Jared Payne, Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Johhny Sexton but the absence of key contributors did not, in Henderson's eyes, provide mitigating circumstances.
"You can use injuries as an excuse if you want but we knew the bottom line before the tournament that injuries happen to every team," he said.
"It was disappointing that we couldn't get more out of the players that stepped into those positions.
"Obviously they were a massive loss, given they're players in such key positions, but there's no reason why we should look to use that as a reason.
"Like I said, it shouldn't have been a shock to us.
"Individual players who were out on the pitch had to step up and fill those roles and, back to the same point again, we didn't at the start of the game."
While four of those absentees were injury enforced, Henderson placed no blame at the door of O'Brien. With Argentina getting on top of the breakdown in a big way, Ireland missed their star flanker who was banned for the game after striking Pascal Pape in the first minute of last week's win over France.
"We've all done stupid stuff in the heat of the game and I'll be holding nothing against him," Henderson reflected.
"It'll happen to many teams. It's just part and parcel of the game."
What was a clear source of frustration for the young forward, however, was Ireland's opening quarter after they found themselves trailing by 17 points as early as the 16th minute and severely lacking in discipline.
"I just think that with a team as good as the Pumas, you can't give them the headstart that we gave them," he said.
"I don't know how many minutes it was but being 17-0 down, I think we did quite well to get back in the game on 60 minutes but, to be fair, they finished it out really well.
"We gave away too many penalties.
"I know myself I gave away a silly penalty at the start of the game, a few other penalties given away…it gave them access into the game.
"Their defence was fantastic in fairness to them.
"We knew we had to come out and start strong which we didn't do unfortunately.
"Bringing the game back to that was definitely a massive effort from the boys.
"Being 17 points down in any international, it's always going to be tough to work back from that sort of deficit.
"I think we did really well to bring back the margin but Argentina just had the head to carry it out at the end and add another few scores to the board."