Iain Henderson: Jokers eased pain of Cardiff

Iain Henderson: 'It's always the same guys, the likes of Simon Zebo, who are always chirpy.'

The despondency of defeat did not last long, Ireland’s jokers in the camp made sure of that. 

Laughing in the aftermath of a sporting setback is often frowned upon by supporters who expect a bit more gloom from their heroes while pundits tend to seize on even the hint of a smile as some sort of character defect.

Yet, as Iain Henderson explained this week, a good giggle was just what was required to turn the page on the round-four loss to Wales and start the final chapter of the gripping storyline that this Six Nations championship is delivering.

The 23-16 reverse may have brought an end to a 10-game winning streak and put paid to hopes of an Irish Grand Slam, but the chase is still on to successfully defend the title won in Paris and that means getting back on the front foot today at Murrayfield against Scotland.

“Everyone’s disappointed but everyone’s different in the way we all take everything,” Henderson said.

“Some boys were very disappointed but there were even jokes on the bus going back from the stadium in Cardiff. We did have a bit of a giggle on the bus coming back, driving down the main street in Cardiff through all the pubs and nightclubs and people jumping up and slapping on the windows.

“It’s always the same guys, the likes of Simon Zebo, who are always chirpy, Jack McGrath’s another one. That was all good to break the tension and force a bit of a laugh, try and get everyone back up because we know we’ve got one more game left and we can’t just sit and sulk for four days and all of a sudden you’ve got two days before another game.

"It’s key to get back on track and in good form because we know we work best when everyone’s in good form and everyone knows what’s going on in training. And if you train well it, on the whole, leads into a good performance.”

Henderson’s performances off the bench, having just returned to fitness following a hip injury, have cemented his place in Schmidt’s matchday squads and marked him out as a future stalwart of the Ireland pack.

Yet such was the impact made by the 23-year-old in Wales a week ago, as he and fellow subs Sean Cronin, Marty Moore, Eoin Reddan and Ian Madigan all helped lift Ireland’s tempo and impetus in search of a come-from-behind victory, many will view him as unfortunate not to be starting in the second row today at the expense of Devin Toner.

The Ulsterman hides any disappointment well and points to the fact he will most likely be on the field at the business end of the game when the goal of a Six Nations title is at its most tangible.

“Obviously I would have loved to get a start but I’m delighted to be involved in a matchday squad, especially in the last game of a Six Nations where we’ve got potential to get some silverware again. The bench can be massively important and it was last year.

"Last season it came down to points difference and the bench came on against Italy (in round four) and the substitutes scored 19 points and had those 19 points not been scored we wouldn’t have won last year. And it’s not only points that you score, it’s points you don’t let the opposition score.

"That affects your points differential as well, so we’ll be coming on this weekend looking to make sure we concentrate on our own performances and try and score as many points as possible and equally not let Scotland score points.

“We’ll be looking to improve on our discipline, especially in the first 15 minutes. Last week we gave away 12 points that we shouldn’t have given away and we might now be in a different place. But it’s done now but we need to make sure we don’t do something stupid like that again. That’s 12 points Scotland could have that we might need.”

Making an impact off the bench does not just happen. As Henderson explains, it involves some very thorough preparation to be able to immerse oneself into a Test match that is flowing at full speed and do an effective job for the team, just as he did in last season’s epic final-round cliffhanger against France 12 months ago.

“You’ve got to realise when you come on that you’ve got to lift the boys and give them something to play for as well. You’ve got to recognise the job the person you’ve come on for has done and try and go one better, add something, an extra spark or anything to make the team click a little bit more or do things a little more efficiently.

“That’s key and last week the likes of Sean Cronin came on and made a good number of carries, Marty Moore coming on and locking down the scrum. That’s the sort of thing we’ve got to do.

"We’ll all be watching the game, and we’ll have our gameplan laid out and the plays we like to make. I’ll be watching the lineout, for instance, looking for what lineouts we’ve already done and the ones we’re going to do next, potentially, what’s worked, what hasn’t.

“Redser and Mads will be talking on the bench, saying ‘we’ve done this play here, when we get on we might look to do this one instead’ or see how they’ve reacted to a certain play which might see us doing something different. So constantly, on the bench, you have to be mentally alert, thinking about everything that’s going on and trying to stay as switched on as possible.

“Then, when you do get on, it hits you in the lungs,” he adds with smile. “The physical aspect of it is tough when you’ve been sitting for a while and you go into a full-pace game, it hits you all at once. But we’ve got the S&C coaches trying to get us ready and we’ll do our warm-ups two or three times before coming on.

“But apart from that I think most of it’s mental, guys just trying to stay as mentally prepared as possible.”


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