IAIN HENDERSON MAY have kept his pokerface up in the post-match interview, but his coach played his hand for him.
In the long-term, Henderson sees his future at blindside flanker.
The Ireland international toed the party line when collecting his man-of-the-match award after the 7 – 18 victory over Connacht at the Sportsground, insisting he was happy just to get time on the pitch at the tender age of 21.
However, Henderson’s talents have already forced him to look well beyond mere accumulation of caps and perhaps it was telling that he really excelled in the final quarter of the game after Lewis Stevenson’s arrival allowed him move out of the second row.
“It’s too early to say,” replied Mark Anscombe when asked post-match what his best position is.
“He’s a good footballer. I like him there [second row] at the moment. For his growing development, it will teach him good habits as a six. He thinks of himself as a six at the moment and I’m sure that’s where Joe [Schmidt] sees him.”
The coaching theme of the season so far has been the communication between the provincial coaches and Schmidt. So, when Anscombe draws his fellow Kiwi’s name into the conversation, you can rest assured it’s not just idle speculation. Nor is it a slip of the tongue to outline the areas which the Royal Academy man must improve.
“He’s a quality player: he’s got power, he’s big, young and mobile. I think time will sort that [debate] out.
“I think his speed, movement and agility are things he needs to work on if he wants to make it as a six. He’s a powerful man and when he gets hold of you, he stops you.
“I suppose there’s a resemblance there to a young Stephen Ferris a few years ago. He’s a great prospect but I think we’ve got to be careful. He’s only 22 [sic], he’s not the finished article but we’re going to start, soon, comparing him to all the best players in the world. We’ve got to keep his feet on the ground, nurture him and let him develop. If we do that, then we’ve got a tremendous prospect.”
Paddy Jackson, another of Ulster’s young international prospects contributed 13 of Ulster’s winning tally including the decisive try. That wasn’t enough to see him considered for the post-match gong by an RTE commentary team which continually questioned the mental strength of a 21-year-old at a notoriously difficult ground to navigate the ball around.
Anscombe believes that players that are cut so little slack the media can be left with seeds of doubt that are hard to shake.
“Sometimes, with individuals, when the media and others start to question them, they start to question themselves. As you’ve seen in the last 10 years, you see young men come and go and we forget about them. You’ve seen others that are nurtured through go on and have great careers.”
‘Good not to get slagged’
In most aspects of his game, Jackson has an old head on young shoulders and his pack have continually spoke of a man who commands them from pillar to post throughout matches and now seasons.
“Yeah, well it’s good to not get slagged for once,” was Jackson’s response to the press pack at the Sportsground.
“It took a while [for Ulster to get going], as most games do in the Rabo. Connacht are, obviously, very physical. One of our problems was that we were a little bit slow to start, playing into a bit of a breeze.
“We had that left-hand corner to kick into for the second half, which helped – it was blowing a bit in the last two games. Once we had that wind in our favour, and made a couple of changes, it made it a bit easier for everyone.”
-Additional reporting by Aaron Turner