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Henderson is ideal man to succeed Best, says McFarland


Next in line: Iain Henderson is well suited to take on the mantle of Ulster captain
Next in line: Iain Henderson is well suited to take on the mantle of Ulster captain
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

There's plenty to be said for out of the box thinking but, more often than not, the most obvious choice is the best one.

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A fine example was provided yesterday by Ulster Rugby with the province confirming that Iain Henderson would succeed Rory Best as club captain.

A PRO14 star, an Irish international, and two years ago in New Zealand, a Lions tourist, with Best hanging up his boots after the rapidly approaching World Cup in Japan, Henderson has a CV that no other in the Ulster squad can presently match.

When asked about being the heir apparent to the metaphorical armband in the immediate aftermath of Best's retirement announcement last season, Henderson was quick to demure, quickly batting back the suggestion that he was the favourite for the role and, as he did again yesterday, citing the case of a strong leadership group that would include Alan O'Connor, Rob Herring and Marcell Coetzee.

In truth, though, Henderson has long been groomed for the role.

While Best joked recently that the shaggy-haired man-child who first pitched up to training just months after helping Belfast Royal Academy to a Schools' Cup final hardly struck the squad then as a future star, his showings over the course of 105 outings for his native province have left little room for doubt.

As a naturally abrasive, homegrown forward, Henderson has been something of an endangered species in recent years, arguably making him stand out all the more in Ulster's pack. From his debut in 2012, to an Irish bow in 2014, an international breakout at the 2015 World Cup, and that Lions tour to New Zealand two years ago, his prodigious talent can easily make up for presumed absence of tub-thumping speeches.

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What's more, the past 18 months have saw an increased consistency. The impacts are the same but, injury permitting, they've been coming more and more often too.

As head coach Dan McFarland noted yesterday, his ascendancy to fill Best's shoes was "not a difficult decision."

"Iain has a deep love for his province," he said.

"He understands exactly what it means to wear the Ulster jersey and this rubs off on those around him.

"As a leader, he has demonstrated his ability to command respect through his professionalism and talismanic play.

"Asking Iain to be captain was not a difficult decision and because he is surrounded by a squad of good men, I know that he will flourish."

There is little doubt that Best is a tough act to follow, for Henderson and indeed anybody else.

While Johann Muller offered a commanding presence during his spell as skipper, Best for many within and outside the province, has embodied Ulster Rugby. Henderson acknowledges the challenge but is excited by what lies ahead.

"I'm incredibly proud and excited to be appointed as club captain," he said. "I had a good chat with Dan and I think we're closely aligned in terms of how we see Ulster moving forward.

"I've got massive boots to full with Rory outgoing but it's a challenge I'm really looking forward to.

"When I've captained Ulster on previous occasions, it's been made a lot easier because of the presence of a number of great leaders around me.

"It really helps when you've got people like Al (O'Connor), Rob (Herring) and Marcell (Coetzee) behind you, who understand what you're doing and provide unbelievable support.

"Our squad has a very low age profile and one of the most exciting things for me is seeing the hunger within the group and the players' desire to improve. We also have the likes of Jack (McGrath), Sam (Carter) and Matt (Faddes) coming in, who will add significant additional experience, so I think we've got a lot to be excited about going into the new season."

With a World Cup and a Six Nations seeing him spend, hopefully, five months of the next season in a green rather than white jersey, it remains to be seen just how often Henderson will be leading the team out in 2019/20. But, just like his predecessor Best, when he's there, he was always going to be the man looked upon to lead.

Belfast Telegraph


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