Iain Henderson says Ireland haven’t ‘become a bad team overnight’.
Coming off the bench, having stewed there for over an hour, the obvious desire for any player is to make an immediate impact, to provide an instant uptick that lifts your teammates and gets the supporters on their feet, while at the same time demoralising the opposition.
Unfortunately for Iain Henderson, who replaced Devin Toner in the 62nd minute of Ireland’s defeat to Wales in Cardiff last Friday night, it was Luke Charteris, the Wales lock who entered the field of battle at the same moment, who made that impact.
Rory Best flung another throw toward the hotly contested lineout, and the giant Welsh lock stole possession — and the spoils, and Ireland saw yet another potential scoring opportunity turn to dust.
Following a 2016 in which Joe Schmidt’s team scored almost 60% of their 36 tries on the back of a solid lineout, it was particularly painful.
But Henderson, not yet a regular starter in the second row, is not supporting the suggestion Ireland move away from their reliance on such a foundation, despite the poor returns in recent games.
“I don’t think so, we have to back our set-piece,” Henderson said.
“Over the past number of years, we have had a good maul.
“There have been a few bits and pieces which haven’t quite worked out the way we have wanted them to recently, there was a late lift at a crucial stage last Friday, but they turned it over.
"Before, we have completely nailed those set-pieces and worked well off them. See how close we got from scoring off the maul later on in the game where we got that rather unlucky penalty against us [when Henshaw infringed].
“We are going to back ourselves to do that, there is no point in not trying to back ourselves.
“We need points to win the game. However, we will take the points if they are given to us early on in the game, if we need to put three on the board. That is up to our game managers to decide when and why we go for the maul or the points.”
Those calls come down, typically, to Rory Best, the skipper, and Johnny Sexton.
Once more, despite the continued preference to back a misfiring lineout, Henderson has supported whatever calls that pair make.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the squad who wouldn’t put their full trust in Johnny and Rory,” he said.
“Two players, who as a general rule, command the game perfectly.
“Nobody would question them, everyone is behind them completely.
“It’s just a few little things, making sure everyone has their role right and then the final outcome is the one we are looking for.
"We are concentrating this week, we know why the drives haven’t worked, we can pick out why that has happened. Problems will happen if you try to rebuild the wheel.
"There’s no point. We will stick to our game plan. We won’t become a bad team overnight. We’re not a bad team.”
There’s been much spoken of pressure and fine margins following the defeats to Scotland and Wales, so why could Ireland deliver against New Zealand and Australia, but not in the Six Nations?
After dining out on the historic wins over southern hemisphere opposition, might it be that playing with a trophy on the line is more difficult?
“If we look back on last year’s Six Nations, I think in the first two games there was one draw and we lost by a point in one other.
"If we had got three more points in those two games, we would have three games leading into the Grand Slam, so it’s those small margins,” Henderson argued.
“I’m not sure how I’d compare the November matches to a tournament because I know everyone does prepare for these games as if they’re competitive Test matches.
“If you’re in a tournament it’s a massive honour to put on the jersey but I don’t think anyone would go into the games feeling any different, whether they’re playing against New Zealand or playing against England, or Wales, or South Africa, or whoever it’s going to be.
“We understand we have the ability to beat the big teams. Outside of tournament times we have beaten South Africa, New Zealand, Australia; we have beaten England in the past number of seasons under Joe with more or less the same player group.
“Everyone believes we can do it; not only believes but knows because it has been done before. I don’t think there is any disbelief in our ability to do it.
“We just have to make sure that we get everything nailed on and everyone is fully prepared and understands what England are going to bring this weekend.”
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