Ulster’s Iain Henderson back in groove after Covid setback

Ulster captain Iain Henderson was grateful to play the full 80 minutes in the province’s bonus-point home win over Cardiff on Friday night as he looks to get back into Andy Farrell’s squad for Twickenham.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Sunday, 6th March 2022, 6:17 pm
Updated Sunday, 6th March 2022, 6:21 pm
Ulster's Iain Henderson
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Ulster's Iain Henderson .

The double British and Irish Lions tourist missed Ireland’s facile win over Italy due to Covid and was sent back to Ulster to get some much-needed game time in his legs.

“I wasn’t aware I was going to play 80 minutes,” said Henderson. “When you go out there you are just looking to make sure you put everything in.

“At half-time I could have been playing 50, so I was coming out for the second half putting in everything I could and then when I saw Alan O’Connor going off that is when I knew I was in for the long haul.

“It was great to be out there, and it was great to see a game out like that. Cardiff played a wee bit near the end of the game but it was good to see us nearly ending on a high, but it was great to get that under the belt and hopefully that will stand for us over the next few weeks.

“It seemed frustrating that I had managed to dodge it for so long. Before then it seems to come at the worst period possible,” he added.

“It is what it is and I suppose I was upset and frustrated for a while, but I’m over that now and you can dwell on these things too much. Not playing last week gave me the opportunity to come back to play and train with the lads this week, which I have been delighted for.”

Henderson was disappointed Ulster’s final try against Cardiff - a length-of-the-pitch effort finished by James Hume - was disallowed.

“Coons (John Cooney) was shouting ‘that is try of the season, that is try of the season’! I think if you have to look at a forward pass more than twice and you don’t know it’s forward it shouldn’t be given as forward.”

A grand slam may be gone for Ireland bit they are very much in contention for the Six Nations Championship, trailing France by three points, and a win at Twickenham would also give Farrell’s side a shot at a Triple Crown against Scotland on the last day.

“It is massively important for any team be it Ulster or Ireland to go away to a real tough stadium to play in and come away with a victory,” Henderson said.

“For us personally with Ireland, we’ll be looking to make sure we are galvanising what we have been putting in on the training pitch and also on the matchday pitch. If we bring together everything we have been doing, I think we will be in a good place but Twickenham is a difficult place to go to for a reason, so we’ll have to see how things shape up there.”

Henderson feels the more Ulster players that are in the national set-up and training with Ireland, the better it would be for the future. The players we have here at Ulster that are not in camp still have great quality, but it is almost like an experience thing to be able to train and perform with people that you don’t do, that often.

“I think when you get put into a new environment you are likely to be under more pressure to perform and in doing that you are constantly learning new skills.”

“Ireland play a slightly different way to Ulster and the games being in that environment with different coaches and seeing different aspects of seeing how they want people to play, coupled with coming back into Ulster and moulding those two together, gives a really good experience and grows players.

“I think it is vital to see our players like Nick (Timoney), Rob (Baloucoune) and ‘Jumer’ (James Hume) all coming through in Ireland and being able to come back and perform.”