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RBD 6 Nations: Iain Henderson at home as Ireland warm up at Newforge

By Niall Crozier

Ulster's Iain Henderson thoroughly enjoyed the role of guide and host for his Ireland team-mates during their two-day camp in Belfast.

Even the weather co-operated, with yesterday's bright sunshine illuminating Newforge Country Club as Ireland's leading lights went through a no-holds-barred work-out against opponents from the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy whose ranks were boosted by a quartet of Leinster's most promising young things.

Hundreds of youngsters from schools in the Belfast area watched, feet away from the heroes from whose ranks only Brian O'Driscoll (calf injury) and Peter O'Mahony (hamstring) were missing, although Andrew Trimble exited limping.

Provincial and international team-mate Henderson explained: "I think he got a knock in the knee but it was just a bit of a bang, precautionary as far as I am aware."

The previous night, the 22-year-old had been delighted to show his comrades from Leinster, Munster and Connacht some of Belfast's attractions.

"Training is very intense, meetings are intense," he said. "You go in the video room and everyone's quiet on the computers, making notes.

"But, definitely outside of that, guys like having fun, going to the cinema if you have a bit of downtime or a coffee or what-not.

"The guys do enjoy each other's company. We got a tour of the Titanic museum – it was my first time there!" he admitted, adding: "And I thoroughly enjoyed it. And we had dinner in Shu on the Lisburn Road."

His suggestion that 'training is very intense' had been borne out a short time earlier when shorts-and-training-top-clad coach Joe Schmidt spotted something not to his liking.

"What are you doing?" he yelled at a malefactor. "You don't watch, you work!"

Henderson was delighted with the whole Belfast experience which, for him, entailed staying at The Ramada rather than the house – less than a mile away – he shares with Ulster, Ireland and former Belfast Royal Aacdemy team-mate Stuart Olding.

Asked about Ireland's decision to encamp in his home city he enthused: "First time, it's brilliant. We were down in Clonmel last week and it was a fair drive for us down to Tipperary. This time it's a fair drive for them up to here."

Having spotted pupils from his alma mater on the touchline, he expressed his intention of going over to greet them as soon as his media stint ended.

"BRA have some here; there was a wee bus-load of them from there and (prep school) Ben Madigan. I saw them, too, so I'm going to go out and talk to them when I'm done."

While it was a very good public relations exercise, it was much more. Having lost at Twickenham on Saturday when England put paid to the notion of a Triple Crown leading to a Grand Slam, Ireland were in Belfast to address what went wrong and begin the process of eradicating those things in preparations for their clash with Italy in Dublin on March 8.

Having entered the fray from the bench at the weekend, Henderson made quite an impact and certainly did nothing to undermine his chances of a crack at the Azzurri on Saturday week.

"I came on and ball-carrying is one of my strengths and that is what I always try to do," he said modestly. "I'm working on other aspects, but I came on and wanted to get my hands on the ball and tried to make a few gain-lines, try and get a break and gets some points off that."

Despite the fact that he is so young – don't forget he was playing for BRA in a Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup final less than four years ago – already he is sufficiently well versed in the art of media duties to know not to overstep the mark.

Asked about his prospects of playing against Italy he neatly side-stepped the question by saying: "Everyone is on the same page and everyone trains as equals. It's not there are the starters and they need to do this and that. Everyone gets a run-in, everyone has to know their details.

"Everyone is on the same page so if we do get brought in, everyone knows – and should know – what is going on, so everyone knows and is prepared to come in anywhere they need to come in."

Although training under Schmidt is tough, Henderson has no problems on that count.

"It's brilliant," he said. "Everything is upped a gear. We're trying to get our attention to detail a lot better, whereas in years past we might have let these opportunities go.

"We have made them all about staying on top of things and making the most of our opportunities – maybe how to make that extra two metres at a tackle, how to get an offload or something. We're really working, making sure those pay off in a game."

As for playing for Ulster tonight against the Dragons, he explained that decision by saying: "We need game time first of all, because if you don't play throughout the Six Nations or you're on the bench, or 24th man, 25th man, you'd go seven, eight weeks without playing any rugby and that's almost like a whole down season with doing absolutely nothing, no game time."

Belfast Telegraph


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