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Ulster ace Henderson reveals he has rival offers on the table

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster and Ireland star forward Iain Henderson has revealed that he is being pursued by overseas clubs eager to recruit him for next season.

The 25-year-old is in the final year of his current deal at Ulster and has sent out a strong signal to both his province and Ireland that lucrative offers have already been made to potentially tempt him away from these shores.

The British and Irish Lions player's comments will set off alarm bells for both Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss - currently in South Africa with the province ahead of Saturday's PRO14 game with the Southern Kings - and national coach Joe Schmidt, who is currently working with Henderson as Ireland prepare for this month's three autumn internationals.

"My contract is up at the end of the season and after the summer tour with the Lions there has been some interest from other clubs and places," Henderson said.

"I will sit down with Joe Schmidt and maybe sit down with David Nucifora (the IRFU Performance Director) and see before making any serious decisions on the future.

"But I think those kind of chats and decisions about where to move to all come into play probably a wee bit further down the year," added Henderson, though an upgrade to an IRFU central contract will obviously have to be on the table for those talks.

“I suppose it is kind of up for grabs at the same time and you’ve got to remember that it is players’ livelihoods and jobs,” Henderson said, while referencing Munster player Simon Zebo’s recent decision to play in France next season which has rocked Irish rugby and prompted his immediate exclusion from the national squad.

“Like, if they’re offering something like what I’ve read with Simon, a relatively lucrative amount that he mightn’t have been offered by Ireland, it’s a financial decision for him as well as a rugby decision,” he said.

Addressing whether he, too, would have a problem with moving to play abroad with a bigger pay cheque than available in Ireland, he said: “I’m not completely closed off to the idea.

“But you’ve got your family, your friends, and a club where you’re already familiar with the coaches and the fans. You’re already established so there’s obviously a side where you have to understand that you’d have to go away and rebuild all of that.

“On the other hand, like Simon Zebo, players sometimes have to think about themselves and sometimes the club a player is at will play on that and say ‘well, they’re comfortable here so therefore we can offer them a bit less’. It’s kind of trying to weigh up options to see what’s best.”

It would be a massive blow for Ulster and Irish rugby should Henderson be lured away and would likely signal the end of his Test career with Ireland as well.

Henderson has won 32 caps for Ireland and the dynamic forward, who can operate at both second row and flanker, has played 80 times for Ulster.

He signed a three-year deal with Ulster in early 2015, having  played his first senior game for the province in April 2012, and has skippered the side for their last three games.

The former Belfast Royal Academy student showed some great form on the recent Lions tour to New Zealand and was considered unlucky not to be included in Warren Gatland’s Test squad which tied the series with the All Blacks.

With James Ryan recovering from the head injury he suffered last weekend, it appears likely that Henderson will partner Devin Toner with Ultan Dillane on the bench against South Africa next week.

“I think three wins from three looks successful for Ireland,” Henderson said of the month ahead. “I think anything less than that we’d have to go away and look at reasons why it went wrong.”

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