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Leinster v Ulster: Iain Henderson insists there's no Rugby World Cup hangover

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Iain Henderson believes the intensity that will be on display when his side meet Leinster at the RDS tonight (7.35pm kick-off) will put an end to suggestions that Ireland's Test stars are still suffering from the knock-on effects of their disappointing World Cup exit.

After the Kingspan men were defeated by Saracens in the Champions Cup last weekend, while Leinster lost their opening games in Europe against Bath and Wasps, a lingering World Cup hangover was blamed in some quarters for the Irish sides' stuttering start to continental competition but the man who was one of the stars at the global tournament thinks the provinces will get back on track.

"I don't think there is anything in the 'hangover' idea at all," Henderson said. "It's just a matter of coming back in and trying to find form.

"Having that little bit less time together to start the season is something that maybe hasn't helped, but the idea of a hangover? That's just hearsay.

"I wouldn't be reading too much into it. Leinster had two bad results on the trot and still have to go to Toulon. That's tough for them.

"We've had one bad result but I don't think it's something we need to be worried about.

"It's not unrealistic to qualify in Europe with four or five wins. We just need to get back to winning ways then we can press on. The next game is a great chance to do that.

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"Leinster are going to be fired up, they're always feisty enough affairs anyway, but the teams are out with something to prove and that makes it even bigger.

"I've been training with them for so long, and them with us. We know all of each other's strengths and all of each other's weaknesses as well. It makes for a really interesting game."

Still only 23, the Saracens loss brought Henderson the belated arrival of his 50th cap for Ulster.

Having hoped to hit the milestone in last season's PRO12 final, defeat to Glasgow in the last four put paid to that idea, the half-century was delayed further after he returned from the World Cup carrying a finger injury that required surgery.

A quick healer, he was back ahead of schedule and has already set his sights on hitting more substantial milestones.

"I've got about another 100 to go to catch Gilly (Craig Gilroy) so I'll have to quicken up," he joked.

"It is good and it's a nice achievement. I just really enjoy turning out for Ulster and, touch wood, there's plenty more to come if I can stay injury free.

"It was good to get back ahead of schedule from the injury but I suppose a frustrating 50th cap for me.

"Saracens are a very, very good team. They played their gameplan and I think they got under our skin a little.

"They were able to press on and take full advantage of the opportunities that they got.

"We've pinpointed around three slip-ups where we could have stopped their tries.

"It was a lack of concentration that let them in. It was a relatively tight game for 65 minutes… it just turned in a way we didn't want.

"We knew what they would do, we managed it well in the first-half, maybe even for three quarters but all of a sudden in the next 15 minutes, it's a bonus-point win for them.

"I know the backs have been reviewing quite heavily what happened with the kicks to the corners because we know that (Jonny) Sexton's kicking game is going to be a massive threat for Leinster."

Not that you would know it from the 1970s Mini Cooper he drove to training each day this week, but Henderson returned from the World Cup, if not a different player, then a player of a very different standing.

His barnstorming displays at the tournament have ensured he will be seen as a key part of Joe Schmidt's plans moving forward, which in turn could see more outings in the lock position, where he will start this evening.

At Ulster's photo call this week, the dual demands now placed on the former Belfast Royal Academy pupil were once again evident.

Sat in the blindside flanker's spot in the changing room, he did so with a No.5 jersey hung on the peg behind him.

Understanding the need to play wherever he is required, especially as we enter Ireland's post-Paul O'Connell era, extra time in the video room as he prepares to play two positions is a chore that he sees only as a route to further improvement.

"I enjoyed the World Cup obviously but I was really just itching to get back and that four or five week injury was frustrating," he said.

"I really wanted to come straight back in and try to kick on and bring something back in.

"I was talking with Joe Barakat (Ulster assistant coach) this afternoon, just going through the Saracens game, and there was plenty for me to improve on.

"There's plenty that needs worked on at the minute. There's always work-ons. You want to build and build and build as a team player."

As both sides look to bounce back from a tough fortnight for Irish rugby, evidence of that team improvement would be more than welcome this evening.

Belfast Telegraph


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