GUINNESS PRO12: Ulster’s Iain Henderson keeping his options open

Ulster's Iain Henderson
Ulster's Iain Henderson

Iain Henderson is quite happy to be a utility forward for both Ireland and Ulster for another while yet.

The Irish international has played more of his 50 caps with Ulster in the back row, but the majority of his 23 starts for Ireland have been in the engine room of the scrum.

The man labelled ‘the beast’ during his exploits for Ireland in the recent Rugby World Cup saw him noticed in New Zealand and with Paul O’Connell having retired from the international scene some see the former Belfast Royal Academy player as the obvious successor in the five jersey.

Last week in the European Champions Cup pool one match against Saracens, Henderson - making his first appearance for Ulster this season having undergone a finger operation following the World Cup - started at six.

The 23-year-old is due to start in the second row on Friday night for Ulster’s Guinness PRO12 clash against Leinster at the RDS, Dublin.

Pushed on the issue of a preference or wanting to get into a settled position, Henderson was adamant.

“Not yet!,” he said. “I am still happy playing wherever.

“Various players can play a number of positions. I can cover back row and second. Robbie Diack is the same. Roger Wilson can cover at six and eight.

“We have a load of different combinations and we train with those all the time so that everyone is just comfortable, because you never know in a game what can happen.

“We saw Rob Herring (hooker) coming on in the backrow from the bench last weekend and of course he made his Ireland debut at hooker,” smiled Henderson.

It is not a situation of Henderson arguing his case to keep his options open at this stage, he has plenty of good reasoning behind it.

“It is beneficial to be able to move around. It improves your all round game as well and your understanding of it.

“It allows you to see different plays and patterns from your own perspective as well as others.”

As for filling the shoes of legend O’Connell, Henderson was quick to point out that for the 2016 Six Nations Championship, Peter O’Mahony could be sidelined with injury still.

“Rhys Ruddock is going well in the backrow, but it will be interesting to see just how will be in the mix for the Six Nations.”

Although Ireland’s World Cup hopes were ended by Argentina in the quarter-finals, Ireland went through their group unbeaten and Henderson said it was a tremendous experience.

“It was disappointing with how it all ended, but from my own point of view it was fantastic,” said Henderson.

“It is a long time away when you are in from camp in June until the end of the tournament.

“It is good to be back as well though.”

Tonight’s derby game will have plenty of familiarity about it given so many of the players facing each other were together at the World Cup.

“It will be interesting with how well the player groups know each other and there were players who were also down at the camps pre World Cup. But then everyone knows each other well.”

Both teams are coming out of the back of European losses on the weekend and we have something to prove.

“The derbies are really great though. We have this one and then over the Christmas and New Year we have Connacht and Munster. They are great games to be involved in,” added Henderson.