"My wife and the kids are like as breath of fresh air, when I go home" - Iain Henderson
"Weddings left, right and centre. There seems to be an epidemic of weddings!"
Recently, as Ireland launched their World Cup jerseys for France 2023, we had an opportunity to catch up with Ulster captain Iain Henderson. He was in typically laconic humour and opened up on a number of subjects, including a busy wedding season for rugby players.
It had been a while since I had been to the IRFU's High Performance Centre, yet passing Simon Easterby on the drive in is a good indicator you are heading in the right direction. On the way up to chat with Henderson and Ross Byrne, I meet Conor Murray and Tadhg Beirne and pass on congratulations for the United Rugby Championship win.
Perhaps that thought is still fresh in my mind as I ask Byrne, not long after, if any of the Munster lads showed up for Ireland camp with a URC medal around their necks. The Leinster outhalf gives that one short shrift, and rightly so.
Henderson comes in next, decked out in the new Canterbury jersey and looking a few years younger without the beard. Asked how he is enjoying the pre-season slog, the lock jokes, "One of the lads said, in the session this afternoon, he was tasting the salmon he had for lunch!
"But that is brought about through hard rugby work rather than, let's say, an aimless task to make you vomit."
Iain Henderson, the family man
The Irish rugby players, no matter their provincial bent, did not get much time away from each other in the off-season. Rugby players tend to get married in batches, every summer, as it is the only period of the year - albeit a small window - when everyone is off.
"It was Billy Burns' wedding at the weekend," says Iain Henderson. "Unfortunately I couldn't make it across as my wife was away for the weekend. Kieran Treadwell got married, earlier in the summer, and I was at that. I was at Tadhg Furlong's wedding, earlier in the summer. Weddings left, right and centre. There seems to be an epidemic of weddings!"
The squad are deep into their World Cup preparations and it has been a tough, yet rugby-focused slog. For Henderson, all that push and grind goes out the door when he walks through the main door, back home.
"My wife is incredibly supportive of me, in terms of my rugby, but she's not incredibly supportive of rugby, which is great for me!
"I go back home and rugby is a whole different world for her. Her and the kids are like as breath of fresh air, when I go home. It's great to be able to come in the door and switch off like that.
"I know a lot of guys would struggle to switch off, in that aspect, and to find their own space at home. I have two young kids that are pretty oblivious to what rugby is. It's nice and refreshing to get back home and have them ask you all the stupid questions of the day!"
Iain Henderson on training camp changes
"The tough sessions have been tough because of rugby," says Iain Henderson, "rather than because of other reasons. That is something the players had highlighted about other World Cup camps - that it was important for us to focus on rugby for those small windows that we actually get together for."
The likes of Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Cian Healy are the veterans of the 2011 World Cup squad, under Declan Kidney, while a much greater number will have experienced those intense preparation camps of Joe Schmidt, in 2015 and 2019. Andrew Trimble, and old Ulster and Ireland teammate of Henderson's, once said the match walk-through at Carton House - with Schmidt watching closely - was often a scary prospect than a Test match itself.
Henderson says Andy Farrell is brilliant at seeking out feedback from players, coaches and other staff to create a programme that suits all parties, but gets the best out of the squad. He adds:
"Something that we felt was that we wanted to continue more with the rugby side of things. We may have felt we didn't get a huge amount of benefit from aimlessly flogging ourselves. In saying that, some of the rugby sessions we've done have been tougher than any of the conditioning work - be it mauling, speed of play, players dropping out and fresh ones coming in. It has all been done in an incredibly productive manner, and a constructive one too. It's been well thought out."
Henderson was part of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup squads, with bigger pressure and focus on Ireland in that latter tournament due to them peaking at World No.1 weeks out from the tournament, their 2018 Grand Slam and claiming World Rugby Team of the Year, nine months after that.
"In 2019 we obviously felt," Henderson starts, before stopping to mull the question.
"We were obviously a good team - we had decent players and a bunch of good results behind us - but I'm not 100% sure if we went in best prepared for that World Cup. And I'm not 100% what was behind it, or what it was down to. Be it the structure of that World Cup or our lead-up into it. That was discussed a lot with Faz, with the physios, S&C staff, other rugby coaches, players, nutritionists, everyone from a whole range, all to ensure he could nail this one."
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