Hungry Iain Henderson looking to add more bite to Ireland’s Six Nations defence

Iain Henderson and Isaac Boss
Iain Henderson and Isaac Boss

Iain Henderson is looking to put injury heartbreak behind him in Rome on Saturday afternoon and will answer Ireland’s call wherever is required.

The Ulster player is hungry to get game time having missed the first half of the season through injury and he is itching to get off the bench on Saturday.

Ireland start the defence of their Six Nations Championship crown in Stadio Olimpico with a tricky test against Italy.

The Italians stunned the Irish two years ago by winning in Rome – the only success they have had against the men in green in 15 years of the Six Nations.

Declan Kidney was in charge then – he was not soon after – and new head coach, Joe Schmidt, will ensure no one in Saturday’s matchday squad will be underestimating the challenge the Azzurri present.

“It is important to get off to a good start,” said Henderson. “It does not matter whether that is France, England or, in this case, Italy. Every team deserves respect and we have to go out and make sure we perform.”

As 2014 drew to a close there was a certain amount of uncertainty around whether Henderson would be involved in the Six Nations Championship at all.

At that stage he was recovering from hip surgery after suffering an injury while playing in his last game - ironically with Ireland on the summer tour of Argentina.

His rehab had been going well but then he suffered a hamstring problem. He did feature for Ulster against Leicester Tigers in the European Champions Cup last month and was included in the reduced Irish squad for the first two rounds of the Six Nations Championship.

Against Leicester, Henderson displayed a new appetite for the game, his physicality raised to new levels and Schmidt threw him in to start the Irish Wolfhounds game against England Saxons last week in Cork - and his performance gives the Irish an edge on their bench.

Although Henderson had started for Ulster in the back row, in the green shirt last week it was in the second row - but he has previously come on in the winger’s position.

“I fancied my pace on the wing against most people,” quips Henderson, adding that while he would prefer to slot into one position, he believes one of the benefits of being in the Irish squad is that he can cover a few (although wing is not one of them).

“I prefer playing back row, “ admitted Henderson, adding: “I am comfortable at second row.

Henderson has played in the Wolfhounds fixture for the last two seasons and said it was a game that propelled him into the senior squad.

“That is the game when you have to go out and put your hand up and get recognised. For me, given the way things have gone with injury, I wanted to get the game time.”

“At the end of the day it is about getting game time and my initial goal after injury was to be in the squad.

“I have achieved that and now I want to show what I can do and then push forward and progress my performances. Hopefully there will not be any injuries to others, but if there are, I can hopefully have prepared well enough to get into the starting role.”

Henderson is no stranger to the green shirt, if he comes off the bench today he will earn his 13th cap – but he has something new going into this campaign - a new nickname, Llama.

It follows a bit of ‘letting the hair down’ during his rehab period when he grew a beard and his hair flowed well over the shoulders.

Henderson explained: “Donnacha O’Callaghan started it although he never properly explained it other than to say I looked like a llama, as much as I could look like a llama.

“Look, I have always had hair, it is usually a 16-month cycle and then I shave it off.”

It is a clean shaved, shorter haired Henderson who is in Rome today - the Italians know the youthful looks can fool opponents.