Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Rugby's Iain Henderson hungry to deliver after injury nightmares

By Michael Sadlier

Things have been frustrating and there is little point in trying to smokescreen it.

Iain Henderson's season has already featured rather more time on Ulster's injury list than he would have liked, with the inevitable outcome that he has been unable to go about his business in the way he had intended.

First up, there was October's toe injury which somewhat spoiled his aftermath of Ulster's stunning European win at Montpellier, and then managed to keep him out of Ireland's autumn internationals, before his comeback game, in late November, was ruined when he then picked up a hamstring tear in the PRO12 meeting with Edinburgh at Ravenhill.

Yes, all that and the fact that his role seems to have currently, and surely only temporarily, morphed into being more of an impact player off the bench – which is where he is for Saturday's shoot-out at Welford Road – has made this campaign less active than he probably would have hoped.

But, as Henderson points out, if he has reason to reflect on his misfortune with injuries, or selection, he can always rid himself of any feelings of self-pity by glancing over at his flat-mate and fellow rising star Stuart Olding, who is out for the season and recovering after cruciate ligament surgery.

"After I tore my hamstring against Edinburgh, I found it very frustrating but I live with Stuart so I just needed to look across the sofa at him with his cast on and his foot up," Henderson said of his former fellow Belfast Royal Academy pupil.

"It is really unfortunate for him. My injuries have been more niggly, like five weeks out of action, but Stuart's is a nine month injury and thankfully I've had nothing like that.

"All you can do is your rehab and then look to get fit and then get more game time," he says eagerly moving away from reflecting too much on the plight of being injured and instead addressing the adjustments required to be an effective impact player and one who intends to make his presence felt at Leicester.

"It's difficult to get into the game," Henderson, who turns 22 next month, added.

"In my first year with Ireland U-20's I came off the bench in every game and found it awful trying to get into a game that has been going for 65 minutes and trying to make an impact.

"But I'm improving that part of my game and making myself more of an impact player from the bench.

"I prefer backrow," he adds. "but being as young as I am anytime on the pitch is experience and I need that as much as possible, the more experience I can get then hopefully I can make myself a better player.

"I'm on the bench this weekend and hopefully I can get some game time," adds the six times capped Ireland international.

"If we go to Welford Road and get the win I think we could actually get Leicester at Ravenhill in the quarter-final," he says of what might come in the complex aftermath of an Ulster victory.

So, no better time to rack up a first European victory at Welford Road and end the hosts' formidable winning run while bringing a quarter-final, against whoever it turns out to be, to the new-look Ravenhill.

"It's cup final rugby and both have everything to play for," he says.

"They are a good team with a big pack and we know they are going to scrum, maul and kick to the corners," Henderson adds before focusing more on the need to prevent the Tigers' getting within range to launch their driving maul.

The maul, along with the scrum, are sure to be key areas and Ulster struggled with the former recently against Munster – when Henderson returned from injury and actually started after Johann Muller's withdrawal – which resulted in them conceding two tries while also surrendering another score off a longer range maul against Montpellier last week.

"We have been talking a fair bit about discipline to stop Leicester getting their maul going," he explains. "We have to deliver it (discipline) around the middle of the pitch to stop them kicking to the corners and letting them get their driving maul going forward."

He will be watching and waiting for the call to join the fray and ever hopeful that, when he arrives, he makes an immediate impact and that Ulster will already be in the driving seat.

Belfast Telegraph


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