Iain Henderson can't lay an egg, he has to show up and perform 2 years ago

Iain Henderson can't lay an egg, he has to show up and perform

At times you forget that Iain Henderson only turned 26 last month.

The Ulster second-row made his international debut as a 20-year-old against South Africa in 2012 after impressing alongside Tadhg Beirne at the Junior Rugby World Cup, and nearly six years later, and he's starting against England at Twickenham with a Grand Slam on the line.

Times have changed for Henderson since the underage grades and he now has the chance to join a small group of Irish players that can lay claim to winning a Grand Slam, but before that can happen, the question is, what Iain Henderson will turn up on St. Patrick's Day in London?

Will it be the Iain Henderson that went missing in Edinburgh last year that shows up on Saturday? The Iain Henderson that looked off the pace at the start of last year's Lions tour? The Iain Henderson that captained his Ulster side to a 44-16 thrashing against Connacht last year when he was one of the two most talented players on the pitch?

Or are we going to get the Iain Henderson that ripped into Italy at the 2015 Rugby World Cup? The Iain Henderson that carried bravely and stripped ball carriers in the tackle against South Africa? The Iain Henderson that blew Clermont away in last year's Champions Cup pool stages? The Iain Henderson that dominated the Hurricanes? The Iain Henderson that flattened Eben Etzebeth in last year's November internationals?

There's a reason Henderson made his international debut as a 20-year-old in 2012.

From Willie John McBride to Paul O'Connell to James Ryan, Ireland have had a very rich history of great locks but with all due respect to the second rows of the last decade - the great Malcolm O'Kellys, Mick O'Driscolls, Leo Cullens and Donncha O'Callaghans - they simply weren't the same level of athlete as what we saw when Henderson first dipped his toes into international rugby.

This 6 ft 4', 18.5 stone second-rower that can play comfortably on the blindside of the scrum and also gives Ireland the option of a second-row ball carrier that can do more than just stand two metres off the fly-half and barrel into opposing defences.

Henderson is great over the top of the ball, he can force turnovers and he also has the mobility and motor to cover ground and make key tackles.

But with Iain Henderson it is not really a matter of what he can and what he can't do, but rather an issue of what Iain Henderson shows up?

His excellent performance in the Lions final midweek game against the Hurricanes last year was the final chance the fringe players had on that tour to make one last push for the Test side.

His dominant display against Clermont at home came as Ulster were battling to stay in the competition before it all ended in tears. His powerful effort in Ireland's first Test win against South Africa in 2016 came after Ireland had been temporarily reduced to 13 men.

Some of his biggest performances have come when his place in the side has either been under threat, or the team he is playing for desperately needs a player to step up and lead from the front.

Ireland desperately need Henderson to offer a big performance on Saturday if they are to win the Grand Slam and it appears that Joe Schmidt is thinking along the same lines.

"Iain has got a little bit of time under his belt now after having a couple of weeks off and is more ready to go," said Schmidt after naming his team at Thursday's press conference at Carton House.

"There's always risks and it's about managing them and it's about calculating what's a lesser risk and what's a greater opportunity. We'd probably err towards the greater opportunity."

Saturday is a massive opportunity for Henderson, and to a large degree, this is it for him.

Ulster have been getting smoked all season and will likely continue to do so for the forseeable future. The loss of Johnny Sexton, Paul O'Connell, Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony derailed Ireland's 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign. He was a bench player in both of the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations championships. He was overlooked for the Test side on last summer's Lions tour. This is it for him. This is the game where he has a chance to be at the forefront of a Grand Slam winning, history making side.

Henderson was superb in the opening rounds of the Six Nations against France and Italy, and after an impactful cameo off the bench against Scotland last weekend following his return from a hamstring injury, he is now poised for what should be the biggest game of his career.

Henderson made his international debut as a 20-year-old and has shown flashes of real brilliance at various points over the last three years, but he's also had some games where he just hasn't shown up.

The positives have far outweighed the negatives during that time span but on Saturday we'll see if he can repay the confidence that Joe Schmidt has placed in him.

St. Patrick's Day will be a day where Henderson can show that not only has he raised the bar for what is expected athletically from an Irish second-rower, a cross Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan will seemingly also bear over the coming years, but on Saturday, Henderson can also add some silverware to match the old heads that went before him.

YouTube will host the highlights of players like Henderson and Beirne for years to come but ask those players what they would rather have; a highlight reel or a framed photo? Here's hoping both.