Ulster’s Iain Henderson does not rule out move abroad

Forward whose contract expires at end of season has had offers from outside Ireland

Ulster forward Iain Henderson launches Canterbury’s “Rising Strength” video series, at Queen’s University, Belfast. Photograph:  Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

Ulster forward Iain Henderson launches Canterbury’s “Rising Strength” video series, at Queen’s University, Belfast. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

 

It was a timely Lions tour for Iain Henderson. Larking among the All Blacks in June like he was one of them, the Ulster forward lived up to the player many had believed he was from a distance out.

Captaining Ulster and also a leader in the team, it is Henderson’s good fortune now that his contract is up at the end of the season, just months after performing in rugby’s biggest shop window outside a World Cup.

Contracts always have a buttock-clenching effect on the players and the IRFU, who drive hard bargains. Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton all held tough for what they got.

But with Simon Zebo now off the IRFU leash and paying the price of an Irish shirt, attention will turn to Henderson, who on Wednesday said he has also had offers from outside the country.

The Lions might have been his coming of age at international level but Irish rugby may now have to pay for that.

“Yeah, my contract is up at the end of the season and after summer tour and stuff there has been some interest from other clubs and places,” says Henderson.

“I will just sit down with Joe [Schmidt], and maybe sit down with David Nucifora and see before making any serious decisions. But I think those kind of decisions about where to move to all come in twos . . . it is probably a wee bit further down the year. I suppose it is kinda up for grabs at the same time.”

The last thing Ireland want is for another player to stir interest in leaving and while Henderson is far from declaring his hand, it may make management twitchy that the 25-year-old pick of Ireland’s locks is not entirely blood bound to Ulster and Ireland.

Rebuild

There is precedence. Tommy Bowe broke from Ulster when he moved to Ospreys in 2008 and stayed until 2012 before returning to Belfast. Henderson mentions Bowe and like the Ulster winger he too has no fundamental issue of principle with moving abroad.

“I’m not completely closed off to the idea [of moving],” he says. “You’ve got your family, your friends, a club where you’re already familiar with the coaches, the fans, the management – you’re already established so there’s obviously a side where you have got to understand that you’d have to go away and rebuild all of that.

“On the other hand, like I said about Simon [Zebo], players sometimes have to think about themselves and sometimes the club a player’s at will play on that and say ‘Well, they’re comfortable here so therefore we can offer them a bit less’.

“It’s kind of trying to weigh up a couple of options and trying to see what’s best for the player.

“Players moving, it’s not just all about signing a piece of paper, there’s a whole lot of lifestyle changes, house moves and stuff that go with it and that may prove to be slightly more difficult than it might seem at the start.”

That’s all Henderson is prepared to say on the specifics. “That would be telling, wouldn’t it,” he says when asked how many offers have come in.

No surprise

November now is another stage and injury free, he believes the summer has brought him to a different, better place from where he was a year ago. He is not part of Schmidt’s leadership group but with the Ulster captaincy and the June games in New Zealand, he knows his level, he is comfortable there and he has confidence in his game. It is no surprise he’s a target.

“I can understand his [Zebo] point of view and why he would want to go and then I can understand the reasons behind Joe’s selection,” explains Henderson.

“But I think it is good that Ireland haven’t put strict guidelines in place similar to Wales because in certain scenarios Wales have shot themselves in the foot with their 60 cap rule.

“You have to see the reasons both people are doing what they are doing. I don’t think they are wrong.”

He’s famously well educated but can he speak another language.

“That’s a probing question! Languages weren’t my strong point in school,” he says firmly closing that door.

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