Iain Henderson targets win over All Blacks in Chicago
Ireland secondrow believes South Africa tour a real stepping stone for young side
Ireland secondrow Iain Henderson drives forward during the third Test against South Africa at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth. Photograph: Michael Sheehan/AFP/Getty Images
It’s said you learn more from your defeats than your wins, in which case Ireland can turn to the future with optimism as well as regrets after twice letting a series win slip through their fingers.
As with the fall-out from their heartbreaking last-ditch defeat to New Zealand in November 2013, they’ll have plenty of time to stew over Saturday’s 19-13 defeat in Port Elizabeth, but as then the experience can perhaps be a springboard to more rewarding memories.
As Iain Henderson put it in the aftermath of Saturday’s series and season-ending defeat: “One thing we can take from this is that as a side, even being a young side, we’ve made history once on this tour and there’s no reason we can’t do it again.
“No Irish team has ever beaten the All Blacks and I don’t see any reason why we can’t. We’ve got two opportunities to go and do it and hopefully in Chicago we can look to turn them over there and, if that happens, we’ll look to build on it the next week and the next week and go from there.”
By then it is to be hoped that Joe Schmidt may have committed his future to beyond the end of next season and onto the 2019 World Cup. This tour provided yet more proof of the profound influence which Schmidt and his coaching and management has on an ever-expanding group of players who have bought into the collective work ethic.
“The terms Joe and detail are linked together,” remarked Henderson. “Everyone says it but I think that because, not only in terms of rugby, his whole job detail; players feel that he has such an impact on them and makes them feel that they can be better and can always get better. That’s one thing he adds to the younger players and I know the older players feel that he’s always adding to them as well. Joe is someone who is constantly striving for perfection in everything he does.
“Not only players, but management and staff, everyone has learnt from him and everyone that has learnt from him it’s been a part of bringing Irish rugby from what it was in my first Six Nations, when we lost to Italy and that Scotland game. Off the back of those results, Joe has turned things around and it’s been massive for Irish rugby.”
Yet the sense of opportunity lost which came with this defeat, as with the failure to close out 19-3 and 26-10 leads in Johannesburg, will linger.
“It’s a massive shame. Nobody goes out there believing that we can’t win, we went out there and gave it everything. Fair play to South Africa, they defended brilliantly and kept us off their line. Faf du Klerk had a try-saving interception when wee Jacko (Paddy Jackson) potentially could have gone himself and on another day we could have won the game, but we’ll learn from this and move forward and look forward to having a good autumn series.
“They’re such a proud nation, in terms of their defence, especially around the goal-line when we were pressuring them at the end. That’s one thing we pride ourselves on is converting points when we have position and we couldn’t at the end. I felt we ended up forcing it at the end there, with them getting the turnover.
“They were fantastic in defence, I felt like they had 15 men on their feet the whole game and in the previous games we felt we were finding gaps and making breaks, but they were more solid today. Fair play to them, they defended well.”
The squad’s depth has also grown, in part out of circumstances.
“Definitely, Irish rugby in the provinces this year has been very good,” said Henderson, despite the disappointing results in the European Champions Cup. “There’s so many class players coming through, it’s good to see a strong representation from Connacht, Matt Healy and Tiernan both doing really, really well. Kieran Marmion’s sitting there, Eoin Reddan has been fantastic for Ireland over the last number of years but Kieran Marmion’s sitting there ready to go.
“He’s been in almost every Irish camp that I’ve been in since 2012, so he’s been in there and knows the gist of things. He knows what’s going on and he’ll come through in the November series and do a really good job.
“That’s another one from Connacht, the likes of Jordi Murphy coming through; stepping up after not playing a huge amount before.
“Players like that doing really, really well, coming through and not having the same experience, but bringing what they’ve given to their provinces through to senior level, stepping up and playing well.
“It’s fantastic, we’re missing a few big names and people would have been sceptical when we left Dublin, but fair play to the young guys for stepping up and putting their hands up.”