Ulster and Ireland are in line for a huge boost as Iain Henderson looks set to return to play after four months out with injury.
Irish rugby has been going through a rebuild of late. Decimated by long-term injuries and left with a gaping hole in the second row following the retirement of captain Paul O’Connell, Ireland were faced with the unenviable job of cobbling together a side that could at least put up an admirable defence of their Six Nations crown.
With the dust well and truly settled on this year’s championship, it’s fair to say that third place in the table is a fair result and about as good as could be hoped for. What has been learned is that Ireland can live on without O’Connell. While nothing can replace his leadership on the field, Ireland, as always, have strength in depth at second row.
With Munster captain Peter O’Mahony still sidelined through injury, it was up to Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan to drive the scrum and lineouts throughout the Six Nations. Both were immense.
New caps were handed to Connacht man Ultan Dillane as he came on as a substitute in Ireland’s final three games of the championship. While we need to see more of the young lock, the evidence is there that Ireland have another immense talent ready to step in and make the position his own.
Now, after months away through injury, it appears that O’Connell’s successor, Iain Henderson, is ready to make his return to play. 2015 saw Henderson make his mark on the Irish set-up, quickly becoming the go-to man to support O’Connell in the second row and, following O’Connell’s retirement, looked set to be the man to take on the no. 5 jersey.
A hamstring injury in December while playing for Ulster ruled Henderson out of this year’s Six Nations and we could have done with his barnstorming, defence-busting runs.
Now it appears the 24-year-old will feature for Ulster in Friday’s Pro 12 clash with Glasgow. Director of Rugby Les Kiss provided a positive update to the BBC, saying:
“Iain is getting closer and could play this week.
“We will see how things look on Wednesday when we get feedback from the training sessions.”
This news will come as a very welcome development as Ireland are now planning their summer tour of South Africa, and the presence of Henderson on the field will certainly provide a huge boost to Joe Schmidt and Ireland’s defensive and attacking options.
Since the retirement of O’Connell, it has been Henderson who has been viewed as his successor and the hope and expectation is that he can pick up where he left off last year and resume his back row dominance.
With options now growing for the Irish pack, things are looking decidedly more encouraging than they were at the beginning of February.
With the three-test tour of South Africa only two months away, fingers will be crossed that Henderson will feature strongly on Friday and then push on the Springboks games in June.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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