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Henderson buzzing to finally join forces with his former foe Coetzee

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Five years since their paths first crossed, Ulster's Iain Henderson can't wait to finally line up alongside Marcell Coetzee and is hoping the chance comes this weekend against Zebre.

While the province's Director of Rugby Les Kiss has never been able to name his first-choice starting line-up at any time during his tenure, one of the great frustrations has surely been that, in the 32 games they have been team-mates, Coetzee and Henderson have never been in the same matchday squad.

A variety of knee injuries have limited Springbok Coetzee to just five games, all of which came during windows when Henderson was unavailable thanks to Ireland commitments, but the wait to see two of the side's most destructive players deployed in tandem could be about to end.

"We've been having a bit of banter about it between us," admitted Henderson, who made his first appearance of the season from the bench in the commanding win over Dragons last week.

"I thought he had assured me earlier in the week that he'd be back for the (Dragons) game and that I could get play with him.

"He came to me and said 'I've got the green light, we're finally good to go.'

"I came out of the meeting and ran up to him saying I was good to go too and he just shook his head and told me it was a red light now, not green."

Should they both get out this week, it won't be the first time they've shared a pitch.

In November of 2012, when Henderson was just a callow 20-year-old some five months on from his Ulster debut, he was stood on the touchline preparing to make his international bow.

With 10 minutes remaining against the Springboks in the Aviva Stadium, he got the call from Declan Kidney to replace Mike McCarthy with the score 16-12 to the visitors.

His opposite number that day - none other than Coetzee - was already on the field, earning a tenth cap despite having only made his own international debut in June of that year.

While Ireland couldn't overhaul the deficit, it was an understandably memorable moment for the Ulsterman, with Coetzee only too happy to oblige the request for a jersey swap.

"Five years I've been saying I'll get my one and his framed together," laughed Henderson.

"It's in my mum and dad's house. I don't think I've said to him actually to see if he remembers. I might just bring it in and see if he thinks I stole it or something.

"I wonder has he still got my Irish one? I hope he hasn't binned it."

With 20 minutes under his belt from Friday, Henderson is now looking forward to when Kiss is finally able to deploy all his big guns together.

"It's not just Marcell," he added. "I'm really looking forward to playing with (Jean) 'Big Red' Deysel and Kieran Treadwell again too. I'm really looking to being a part of this pack.

"A couple of years ago there was all that talk that we lacked edge, that we lacked carriers.

"But once we get everyone together in that back five it's going to be really good. There's some great carriers now and I'm just buzzing for it."

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