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14th Mar 2022

One poor game shouldn’t prevent Iain Henderson from starting against Scotland

Patrick McCarry

Iain Henderson

The Ulster lock played his longest Test stint in 12 months.

Every replacement must get into the mind-set that they can be called on at any moment. Still, Iain Henderson could not have expected that he would be needed as early as the second minute.

Having enjoyed an excellent couple of season’s – he was arguably the best player in Ireland last year, although we would put Tadhg Beirne slightly ahead – Henderson has been dogged by short- and medium-term injuries, stretching back to the completion of the Lions Tour.

The 30-year-old has played only three games for Ulster this season and his only Ireland start was in the November win over New Zealand [he was replaced after 47 minutes in that]. Put simply, Henderson is rusty and it showed in his 78+ minutes off the bench – following James Ryan’s concussion – against England.

On the latest House of Rugby URC [LISTEN from 2:30 below], Henderson came in for some criticism after less than stellar weekend outing. All told, though, there is a compelling reason to start him against Scotland, this weekend.

Iain Henderson of Ireland comes on to replace James Ryan at Twickenham Stadium. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

The case for starting Iain Henderson against Scotland

Put simply, James Ryan must not be involved against Scotland. His concussion against England, in Ireland’s 32-15 win, was the fifth he has sustained in less than two years.

“It seems like James will have to take a break,” said Greg O’Shea, during the show. “Johnny Sexton did it a few years back and it served him well. Maybe just take a sabbatical for a while.”

Medical data on concussions states that the more concussions you have in your career makes you more susceptible to pick up another. The next part is not an exact science, but putting Ryan on the sidelines and taking time with his recovery will ultimately serve him better. The player’s own feelings on this should not come into it.

Post-match, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said how Ryan had recovered well from that early Charlie Ewels blow, and had been celebrating the win with his teammates in the ‘away’ changing room. Farrell gave no indication if Ryan would be involved against Scotland, but one hopes the 25-year-old is taken out of the line of fire.

Henderson would be the obvious candidate to step in to the second row for Ryan, despite his multiple penalty concessions and off-colour outing against England, as was noted on the show – “They were silly penalties, and ones in front of the posts, which kept England in the game”

In terms of Test minutes, Saturday’s game at Twickenham was the longest stint for Henderson since the 2021 Six Nations win over England, which took place exactly 12 months ago.

Ryan Baird and Kieran Treadwell are the other options, if Farrell wants to pick from within his current squad, while Ross Molony was recently called in to train with the senior squad.

Henderson will be full-out this week in training as he tries to put himself in a position to start against the Scots, in what will be a Triple Crown decider and possibly more. As patchy as it was, he will have benefitted from another long stint on the pitch, last weekend.

And, as we all saw when Ryan went off, that Ireland pack needs some ballast in the second row. Tadhg Beirne is already an under-sized lock, in Test terms, so that second row needs a big unit in there. It means Ryan Baird may have to bide his time on the bench, with Henderson and Beirne re-uniting for a crack at Gregor Townsend’s men.

The Ulster captain is more than capable of finding that form of 2020 and 2021 and proving just what he is all about.

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