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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Les Kiss: Iain Henderson could be one of the stars of the World Cup

reland's Iain Henderson during the captain's run
reland's Iain Henderson during the captain's run

Iain Henderson can come of Test-match age in Ireland's World Cup opener against Canada in Cardiff, according to Les Kiss.

Ulster lock Henderson has beaten Leinster's Devin Toner to partner captain Paul O'Connell for Ireland's first Pool D clash at the Millennium Stadium.

Toner forged a formidable duo with O'Connell en route to Ireland's two-straight RBS 6 Nations triumphs, but Henderson has long been earmarked for Test potency.

The 23-year-old will win his 20th cap against Canada, but only his fifth Test start, and defence coach Kiss has backed the Craigavon native to realise his rich potential.

"Iain has done very well and I don't think it's just in this off-season either, he's come in over the last two years, and he's been learning the ropes, not only through Paul O'Connell but also through Devin Toner," said Kiss.

"He's learned a lot in that time.

"It's another step up for him, a big tournament and it will be exciting for him. But we've seen what he can deliver.

"The potential's there but if he's got his mind on and his head right he can be a damaging player.

"So he'll have to bring that into the game in some form or other, whether that's in the set-piece or in the loose.

"But it's a big opportunity for him."

Toner appeared for Friday's captain's run training session ready to take a full part, but was held back by the coaching staff, who felt he would benefit more from a rest after a heavy weights session earlier in the day.

Powerful back-five forward Henderson remains as comfortable at blindside flanker as in the second row, and has admitted he feels ready to challenge for a regular starting berth in Joe Schmidt's side.

Second row totems O'Connell and Canada's Jamie Cudmore will go toe-to-toe on Saturday in the latest of a series of gritty conflicts.

Henderson admitted he can still learn from both evergreen locks on how to control the front-five contest at Test level.

"Joe has backed me, put me in the starting squad and that's a massive confidence booster for me," said Henderson of boss Schmidt's faith.

"I can only try to take my opportunity as I've tried to take my opportunities in the past.

"Hopefully that would be the grounding of me cementing a place in the starting team.

"Hopefully the ability to control games is coming as I progress.

"The more you play with and against players of that level, hopefully the more you can learn in how to become like them."

Head coach Schmidt has gained great success through his pragmatic gameplan, but his assistant Kiss believes the World Cup will not be won in safety-first mode.

"I'd be reluctant to say that," said Kiss when asked if conservative rugby wins World Cups.

"Certainly there would be another form of pressure that prevails when there's something huge at stake.

"That might tighten up some mindsets, but I think the team that gets too conservative may not be the smartest.

"You need to be able to adapt and react to the moments that are in front of you, the team that can actually see those moments, create those opportunities and clean them up at that moment are going to make a big difference.

"And I'd say that tries will win the World Cup."

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