Iain Henderson takes another step in the right direction
Ulster forward’s athleticism was on show in powerful performance against Wales
Iain Henderson in action against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. “We gave Wales three silly penalties, three shots at goal and they took them.” Photograph: Reuters
The numbers confirm the visual aesthetics of Iain Henderson’s high-calibre performance at the Aviva Stadium.
Henderson made more tackles (12) than any other Irish player, he was in the top three in the number of carries made, beat two defenders, stole a lineout, winning two of his own, and scored his first and Ireland’s sole try.
The 23-year-old’s freakishly athletic display was a timely reminder of his prodigious ability. It was not without blemish, as he would subsequently point out, but what it did contain was irrefutable evidence of a player who employs both brain and brawn to maximise his impact.
His footwork in contact was exceptional, displaying an uncanny knack of generally taking tackles on his terms; four Welsh men converged in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent him scoring a try. Henderson’s success wasn’t all about size.
A bright, engaging presence, he sifted through the disappointment of defeat, picking out several shortcomings, beginning with discipline.
“It was frustrating in the first half. We went in at half-time and talked about our discipline. It was a big thing that Joe [Schmidt] had been on about it all week.
“He wasn’t happy with our penalty count. He wasn’t happy with it in the first half and he wasn’t happy with it in the second half either.
“They had 15 penalties to six or eight (the penalty count was 14-8 against Ireland), which is high by our standards in the last Six Nations and the Six Nations before.
“One thing we really targeted was cutting penalties out of our game and that was why we managed to shut teams out of games, by not letting the in; this time we gave Wales three silly penalties, three shots at goal and they took them.”
He then turned the analysis from the collective to his performance. “I gave away a few penalties, [put in] a few bad cleans. I was obviously happy I got the try and I was happy with the few carries I got as well, but if you look at any game you can pick out faults in any player’s performance.
“I’ll be talking with the forward coaches and Joe in the coming days and I’m sure they’ll have stuff for me to work on as well.
“In pre-season games especially you have a fair few conditioning issues and everyone is blowing. You try to get your basics right and make the players around you look good. That’s another thing we talk about quite a bit. When you get good ruck ball from your scrumhalf, and other players are carrying before you, gaps open up and that’s what happened for my try.”
“If we can get them sorted now and get our discipline levels and penalty count down to what it had been in the Six Nations prior to this warm-up series, we can be in a really strong place.”
When asked about his preferred position, he explained that he would be willing to play anywhere and that he sees himself as genuinely versatile in being able to in the secondrow or at blindside flanker.
All he craves is consistent game time. “I see myself as a versatile forward who can play backrow or secondrow. I’ll happily put my hand up and play both.
“I played [number] six all the end of last season and 40 minutes at secondrow there two or three weeks ago so I haven’t played an awful lot of secondrow in recent games.
Under the belt
On the day of Paul O’Connell’s milestone, he was asked about his secondrow partner. “It was brilliant. He’s been a stalwart for Ireland. He’s been fantastic. I think I said this earlier in the week any professional sportsperson can learn from what Paul O’Connell does, not only on the field, but everything he does off the field, in training; everything down from nutrition to reviewing other teams.
Henderson smiled mischievously when asked how the two complemented one another. “Do we? I think obviously Paul is a good grafter; he does an awful lot of the unseen work which leaves nice spaces for me if I end up carrying outside him.
“Some people might say I don’t do enough of the nitty-gritty work. He might put himself around a bit more and cover that for me and I can hopefully carry a bit more for both of us.”