Iain Henderson ready to take on all at Rugby World Cup: Schmidt
Ulster's Henderson primed to become World Cup starter
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has declared that Ulster star Iain Henderson is on course to force his way into the starting line-up for the World Cup.
Playing in the second row Henderson produced an eye-catching and try scoring display in Saturday’s 16-10 defeat to Wales, leaving Schmidt with plenty to think about.
With the Irish squad for the World Cup set to be announced today, 23-year-old Henderson knows he will be in it and better still may push more experienced stars like Devin Toner out of Schmidt’s first choice XV.
Often seen as a fantastic impact player from the bench, Henderson (pictured) would relish taking to the field alongside skipper Paul O’Connell at lock from the first whistle when the tournament begins next month.
Impressed Schmidt may give the big Ulster favourite his wish. The Irish coach said: “He’s been pushing for a while.
“We’ve utilised Dan Tuohy, Donnacha Ryan and Dev Toner in those positions and I think they’d all be looking at him and going ‘wow, he’s certainly delivering’.
“He had a fantastic opportunity against Wales and it’s pretty hard to say he didn’t step up and take it.
“His ability to get up and into the line was very good.
“He obviously carried very strongly to get the try and give us a bit of momentum.
“He’s a big strong athlete and that makes him really useful to us.
“And he’s contributed massively to us in the last two years in some of the really good performances we’ve had.”
Against Wales at the weekend, Henderson was only making his fifth Test start.
He was Ireland's most effective player and offered a display that showcased the full range of his talents.
While his first international try provided the highlight, Henderson's other notable contributions included poaching the ball in his own 22, stealing a lineout and forcing opposition scrum-half Rhys Webb into a turnover. If Schmidt was unusually effusive given the loss, Henderson himself downplayed his own impact.
"There are work-ons, I gave away a few penalties, there were a few bad ruck cleans.
"I was happy I got the try and a good few carries but if you look at any game you can pick out faults from any players.
"I'm sure the forwards coach, Joe and Les (Kiss) will still have plenty of work-ons for me."
But the Ulster Academy graduate has never been shy over his aim of dislodging an incumbent from an Ireland jersey, be that at lock or blindside flanker, and is hoping his efforts have edged him closer to a starting spot.
"I think this was obviously everyone's last chance to put their best foot forward, and I felt I did what I could out there, but I'm very disappointed with the result. However, I think I've given myself one of the better opportunities.
"You're always looking to do your basics right and in pre-season games you're always looking at getting your conditioning right.
"When you work hard and other players are working for you the gaps open up and that's what happened for my try."
More comfortable with a six rather than a four on his back, he may well have softened his stance for Saturday at least having been afforded the chance to pack down alongside Paul O'Connell on what was a last Test appearance on home soil for the iconic Munsterman.
"He's been a stalwart for Ireland," said Henderson.
"I think I said during the week to other people that any professional sportsperson could learn from what Paul O'Connell does, not only on the field but everything he does off the field in training right from nutrition to reviewing the other teams."
On a potential partnership between the pair, he added: "Paul is a good grafter, He does an awful lot of the unseen work which leaves spaces for me so I end up carrying outside him.
"Where some people might say I don't do enough of the nitty-gritty work, he might put himself around a bit more and cover that for me."
Thanks to O'Connell's Toulon swansong after the World Cup, if Henderson does manage to displace Toner it will certainly be a short-lived pairing but, on a day when the Aviva Stadium crowd lingered to wave goodbye to a legend, they may well have left talking about his heir apparent.