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Henderson locking down Ireland starting spot

Ireland's Iain Henderson, here charging against Wales, has blended his imposing physique with athleticism to devastating effect.
Ireland's Iain Henderson, here charging against Wales, has blended his imposing physique with athleticism to devastating effect.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

DUBLIN • The profile picture on Iain Henderson's Twitter page shows the big Ulsterman being tackled to the ground by two defenders while flicking an audacious one-handed pass to a team-mate.

It neatly sums up a young man who could easily be the standout player at the Rugby World Cup, which starts next Friday.

Standing 1.98m tall and weighing 114 kg, Henderson is among the biggest men in Ireland's squad. He is also one of the best with the ball in hand and is a player aptly described as freakishly athletic during his three years of professional rugby.

The 23-year-old, who is equally comfortable at blindside flanker or in the second row, appeared likely to start among the World Cup replacements where he has impressed for Ireland in the past three Six Nations campaigns.

He then packed down beside Paul O'Connell in the penultimate warm-up game against Wales and put in the kind of complete display that left most wondering how much longer Joe Schmidt can afford to start without him.

PROMISING TALENT

Iain showed a really big work rate. He is a young man, a good athlete, and we are hoping he will continue to make progress in that manner.

JOE SCHMIDT Ireland's rugby union coach

Said Schmidt: "Iain showed a really big work rate. He is a young man, a good athlete, and we are hoping he will continue to make progress in that manner."

Henderson was everywhere. His powerful counter-rucking and slick carrying effectively gave Ireland a fourth backrow at the breakdown while his line-out takes were flawless, an ominous sign for the more limited if guaranteed lineout winner Devin Toner.

Knocking three Welsh defenders on their backs in one go to bulldoze over for his second international try merely emphasised the case for a start when things get serious against Italy and France in the group stages.

For all his prodigious talent, Henderson has said he never saw professional rugby as a career until he played for Ulster for the first time when he was barely out of his teens in April 2012.

In fact, he had decided to study mathematics in Edinburgh until former Ireland centre and Ulster youth coach Jonny Bell intervened and asked him to consider Belfast's Queens University and a place at the Ulster academy instead.

Often compared to another Northern Irishman, the British and Irish Lions' most capped player Willie John McBride, Henderson quickly rose through the ranks at the academy and made his international debut with barely a handful of Ulster caps to his name.

After adding some muscle to his gangly frame in the past 12 months he is fulfilling his potential at just the right time and, if Toner manages to keep him at bay, Ireland's No. 6 Peter O'Mahony will need to be at the top of his game.

One way or another, Henderson appears set to make his mark.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Henderson locking down Ireland starting spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe