GUINNESS PRO12: Iain Henderson plans his own Italian Job

Iain Henderson has won two Six Nations Championship medals and played at the world cup during his 23 caps for Ireland as well as having appeared over 50 times in the white shirt of Ulster but on Saturday he will embark on a personal rugby first.

Ulster powerhouse Iain Henderson
Ulster powerhouse Iain Henderson

The loose forward has never played for Ulster in Italy.

“I’ve never played at Zebre I don’t actually think I have ever played in Italy for Ulster,” said Henderson, and then jokes: “But I have heard of Luke Marshall that the Parma ham is pretty good out there, I’ll looking forward to it and hopefully the weather will be nicer out there.”

Henderson has endured an injury hit season.

He returned from his latest setback in the away defeat at Glasgow on Good Friday but was surprised to get the full 80 minutes at Scotstoun.

“No it wasn’t the plan, I saw Alan O’Connor go down and the big hard man doesn’t go down for much.

“The prognosis wasn’t good that night and he is still waiting to hear from a few scans and then Nick (Williams) went down too, so Robbie (Diack) came on and thankfully he had a wee stint in the second row. It was unexpected but enjoyable none the less.”

No player wants to spend time on the side lines but at least Henderson wasn’t on his own rehabing.

“It’s a pain but being out with Tommy at least he was there to keep me company in the gym.

“With the physio and all the rehab sessions and he got back last week for the A’s, it’s frustrating but it’s part and parcel of the game now.

“With the finger and then the hamstring back to back injuries is not ideal but you have to do it and it was always going to be a long season.

“But I wasn’t expecting to be injured for half of it however I’m glad to get back for the business end of the season and hopefully we can win something for the club.”

Ulster travel to Zebre three points off the top four and with renewed optimism after beating high flying Connacht in their last outing.

“We got the job done but not the way we would have liked to have done it,” said Henderson.

“It was a bit of an agricultural way to do it however it was a win nonetheless and they didn’t get a get a bonus point which would have made them slightly more comfortable up there.

“At the end of the game it was frustrating them going down to 13 and I probably didn’t have my best or favourite game I’ve ever played. However on nights like that you just have to get the win and enjoy it afterwards and you look back to see what you have done right and what you haven’t done right and improve on it.

“Hopefully given that we had a week off last week we did a good bit of training and reviewing of the game and hopefully we have rectified those things going into Zebre which will be tough because they are going for their Champions Cup spot as well and they will be fighting for that.”

Ulster suffered a shock 13-6 defeat at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi against Zebre last season when prop Declan Fitzpatrick was sent off.

“We have Nigel (Owens) this weekend so hopefully we won’t have that rash a decision early on but you never know and these things happen and they took advantage of it.

“You can see with the Italian teams in recent years when we used to play Aironi it was a guaranteed win a five pointer home and away where now they have been turning over teams home and away.

“We have to realise that the Italians teams are really coming on and Zebre have pretty much got the Italian international backline.

“I’m sure it will be a tight enough game and they are not going to roll over and let us walk all over them.

“We have to make sure we have our heads screwed on and play our game and if we can get all our detail right we should be able to get the win.”

Glasgow ran in seven tries against Zebre last weekend.

“I don’t think it puts more pressure on us but it makes us realise at half time it was 14-7 and you just have to keep plugging away at them and it was tight until 55 minutes. You have to keep working at it and keep doing what you are doing and then you will reap your rewards.”

Zebre are second bottom in the table three points clear of basement club Treviso but the two are battling it out for Italy's Champions Cup spot for next season.

“It’s not only competitive in the top half of the league the whole league is,” remarked Henderson.

Zebre want that spot so there are different aspects that come into the league at this time of season.

“It is not only fighting for the top four spots as it was in previous seasons, but the top six and the bottom half as well.

“I’m sure it will just add to the excitement of the game and hopefully it will open it up a bit more and make it more enjoyable.”

Henderson believes if Ulster win all three remaining games the table will look after itself.

“The league has been so tight this season.

“Look at it from first to seventh - it’s tight and there are so many different permutations.

“So many different things can happen all we have to do is concentrate on what we can control.

“If we get the wins that is the best we can do but we are solely focused on this weekend and not glancing ahead and worrying what is coming ahead of us.”

Henderson has been showing his versatility switching between blindside flanker and second row.

“I’ll play wherever just give me game time and get me out running, at six your legs feel fresher."