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Henderson shuts out “highlights-reel” rugby to thrive with Ireland

Ulster lock Henderson bulldozed South Africa talisman Eben Etzebeth in November

Iain Henderson has vowed to ignore “highlights-reel” rugby to realise his full potential with Ireland.

Ulster lock Henderson bulldozed South Africa talisman Eben Etzebeth when Ireland thumped the Springboks in a record 38-3 triumph in Dublin on November 11.

The 25-year-old wiped out second-row rival Etzebeth when driving forward with the ball, in a stunning snapshot shared thousands of times on social media.

That prompted team-mate Devin Toner to laud Henderson as a true Test match “monster”, but the powerful enforcer has now insisted he will not let special moments or outside praise distract his focus.

“That was a two-second period in an 80-minute game,” Henderson told Press Association Sport, of running over the top of South Africa skipper Etzebeth.

“People may look at that and say I’d played brilliantly because I ran over the top of him, but if I do everything else wrong in the game then I’ve played badly.

“And if Eben happens to miss that tackle but is excellent everywhere else, then he’s still played really well.

“So that’s probably where you have to take things with a pinch of salt. It’s not about a highlights-reel kind of approach.

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Hurricanes v British and Irish Lions – Tour Match – Westpac Stadium

“It’s the guys that make the game so much easier for their team-mates that I look at, respect and want to emulate. For years at Ulster and with Ireland too, that’s been Chris Henry.

“If Jacob Stockdale makes a great break, it’s probably going to have something to do with a really good ruck clean at the breakdown before from one of the forwards.

“Those are the kinds of things that probably aren’t credited enough. That’s just because it’s not flashy.”

Henderson remains one of Ireland’s final out-of-contract frontline stars still to complete new terms for next season and beyond.

The Craigavon-born star is still expected to commit his future to Ulster and Ireland, but his immediate focus will now shift to the NatWest 6 Nations.

Ireland will kick off their campaign by facing France in Paris on Saturday, February 3, with Henderson now well aware he has to step forward as a senior leader.

The 34-cap lock has captained Ulster in Rory Best’s absence this term, further underlining his rising influence.

Henderson believes playing alongside the likes of current Ireland skipper Best and now-retired greats like Paul O’Connell has handed him unrivalled insight into how to reach his true peak.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be exposed to guys like Rory and Paul, who would point me in the right direction – without that I may not be where I am today,” said Henderson.

“Rory has been a huge help to me, and you see that transferring to others at Ireland as well.

“He understands and expects full professionalism. Everyone knows Joe Schmidt expects the detail to be spot-on all the time.

“If you’re captain and the players didn’t want to adhere to that, it would be a shambles.

“So you have to have it driven within the team as well, so that you are prepared for every session, so that you’re doing all the vital things that aren’t 100 per cent pure rugby.

“That’s key to squeezing the very most out of the squad you have.”

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