The idea for the 5 Up series was taken from the Seven Up TV show. We were interested to see how aspiring professional players developed and what factors affected their progress. Five players were chosen: one from each of the provinces and a second, from Leinster, who would have another season at underage level the following year.
With Ulster throwing their end-of-season eggs in the Heineken Cup basket, Henderson was given his starting debut for Ulster at the tail end of the 2012 season in a 8-36 defeat to Munster when he scored a super try. Stephen Ferris’ tendency to injury, along with Robbie Diack being unavailable, allowed Henderson the opportunity to start against Cardiff in September of this season. Henderson took his chance and also filled in the second row with Johan Muller injured at times during the season.
Henderson started all of Ireland’s matches in JWC 2012 as Mike Ruddock’s young charges finished in fifth place after losing out to England at the pool stages. He scored what turned out to be the decisive try against South Africa in Ireland’s game against the hosting Springboks.
To date, Henderson has made five international appearances for Ireland, all off the bench. He got the most game-time against Italy and looked comfortable at that level, repeatedly carrying and making bad ball better due to excellent presentation skills and consistent leg drive. He drove Parisse back off a five metre scrum at the start of the second half before putting in three classic hits where he’d lined up his man perfectly. Hendo picked up a foot injury in this game – a player getting injured with Ireland! – but a scan revealed only soft tissue damage.
Re-reading the original article, I was struck with its muted tones so must have been wary about lauding twenty year olds with little professional experience. The last line of the Henderson piece betrays some of my expectation but I have been surprised with how well he has adopted to higher level rugby. Despite only turning 21 in February, Henderson has never looked out of his depth in any match I’ve seen him in and we have yet to discover his ceiling.
For my money, Henderson’s international future is at second row where his combination of strength and agility make him a very valuable commodity. Ireland have been reasonably well served in the back row over the last fifteen years but have struggled to find an international class tight-head lock. His natural strength marked him out initially at u20 level and as he matures this feature of his game should only increase.
In contrast to some of his peers, Henderson has been fortunate with injury in that he hasn’t suffered anything serious and others’ unavailability has provided him with starting opportunities. Through what has been a steady rise at a young age, Henderson has maintained a remarkably low media profile and one of the few features about him revealed that he had not been a schoolboy superstar – unbelievable! I believe he is the best young Irish forward since Cian Healy and has the potential to be world class for a sustained period of time. Keep watching this space.
Gilsenan started against SA and England in JWC12 match but injured his ankle against England and played no further part in the tournament. That was the only match that Ireland lost in the tournament. Gilsenan was replaced at openside by Jordan Coghlan for the knock out games with Iain Henderson moving to blindside.
In the British & Irish Cup, Gilsenan came on for Leinster A at openside against Jersey, scoring a try, and started against Pontpridd. He shared the seven jersey with Coghlan and Dom Ryan in the A campaign and has yet to start for the senior side.
Gilsenan has recently had a run of games for UCD at blindside as Mark McGroarty seems to have nailed down the openside slot at Belfield. UCD lie second in Division 1B at time of writing after Ballynahinch claimed the title.
McGrath was on the bench for Ireland’s first two JWC12 matches against South Africa and England behind Keiran Marmion. McGrath started against Italy and scored a try.
Marmion was first choice for the remainder of the tournament and upon his return made the Connacht starting jersey his own.
McGrath captained Ireland in the 2013 u20 Six Nations tournament where they went 2-1-2 beating eventual winners England in Dubarry Park.
McGrath has seen very little senior rugby this season with Lansdowne scrum half John Cooney starting at scrum half for Leinster A throughout the B&I Cup and UCD using a range of scrum halves in their AIL campaign with Jamie Glynn getting an extended run in the team after Christmas. McGrath suffered from illness in the 2013 season causing him to miss a chunk of matches. McGrath was selected to start in Leinster A’s win against Bristol in the B&I quarter.
Hanrahan made his competitive debut in October 2012 at Thomond against Zebre in the centre outside Ian Keatley and made his mark with two tries. He had to wait until February 2013 to start again when he again lined up in the centre, this time against Edinburgh and Llanelli.
Hanrahan has played most of his rugby this season with UL Bohs who are at the foot of Division 1A with 5 wins from 16. Hanrahan has played in ten of those games with three wins and Bohs’ record is far better with him on the pitch than otherwise.
It’s interesting to compare Hanrahan, who played centre during the u20 2012 Six Nations outside Paddy Jackson with Jackson himself. Ulster started Jackson against Leinster in April 2012 and since then he has had a good run at the starting berth including an appearance in the Heineken Cup Final. Jackson did not travel to South Africa for the u20 JWC at Ulster’s behest and has since started for Ireland at outhalf. Hanrahan started in Jackson’s absence and played well enough to guide the team to fifth position and earn himself a nomination (one of three) as IRB Junior Player of the Year.
Jackson has been championed at Ulster where Iain Humphreys was jettisoned as a starter having started for Ulster in Thomond in the Heineken Cup quarter final before leaving the club during summer 2012. If Ulster haven’t exactly made Jackson a franchise player – Ruan Pienaar and John Afoa are too prominent for that designation – they have afforded him a lot of opportunity.
While Jackson has been playing for Ireland, Hanrahan has been ploughing a lonely furrow at the foot of Division 1A. Part of the reason for this series was to follow five players in particular during the stage of their career when promise must be translated to achievement. There is a general agreement that those that make it have earned it but there are a few twists in the road along the way.
Hanrahan started at out-half in Munster’s away quarter final win against the Cornish Pirates in the B&I Cup.
Having impressed throughout the underage Six Nations, Layden missed out on the IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa due to a foot injury. He was replaced by Buccs team mate Conor Finn. Peter Nelson of Ulster started against pool games against SA and England before moving to centre against Italy where he scored two tries. Michael Sherlock played against Italy before Nelson returned to full back against England and France.
Layden (born 9/9/92) has mixed appearances for the Connacht Eagles in the B&I Cup and for Buccaneers in Division 1B of the AIL. The emergence of Robbie Henshaw (born 12/6/93) has limited opportunities for anyone else in the Connacht 15 jersey, including former captain Gavin Duffy. The Connacht Eagles finished last in their group winning one game while Buccs are fourth in Division 1B.
Layden’s last year has been plagued with injury including foot injuries and hamstring tears.
From a personal point of view, this has been a very interesting series. The themes that struck me were the impact of injuries at the early stage of a players’ career, the competition provided for a spot in your squad and the importance of a promoter who is prepared to give you a chance.
I think Iain Henderson is a smashing rugby player who benefitted greatly from game time with Ulster. I don’t think he’d have got the same opportunity had Stephen Ferris, Robbie Diack, Nick Williams and Johann Muller been fit at various stages of the season. I think he would have played and contributed as a squad player but the experience he gained of pro rugby stood to him and he keeps improving. Ulster have benefitted and Henderson’s progress suggests that one of the prerequisites of a top provincial coach is the willingness to give young players game time and the ability to maintain competitiveness while doing so. Joe Schmidt remains the model.
The comparison I have in mind for Henderson is Brodie Retallick, signed from Hawkes Bay by the Chiefs at 20 and a 7 time starter for NZ. There are arguments about the differing physical requirements between the Southern Hemisphere, [aerobic, ball-handling, competitions played one after another] and Northern Hemisphere [set piece based, heavier pitches, season dominated by Six Nations with Heineken Cup spread throughout ] but Retallick is a test All Black so he’s able to mix it. To counter that, Mark Anscombe is a Kiwi coach, and indeed Retallick was one of his JWC winning Baby Blacks, the injuries happened and Henderson took advantage of them.
A member of the Class of ’12 who has been afforded a huge opportunity is Paddy Jackson, championed by Davy Humphreys at Ravenhill and now starting fly-half for Ireland. In your correspondent’s opinion there’s precious little between Jackson and Hanrahan but Jackson now has the experience and neither will get this season again.
These players are illustrative of the Competition for Places meme. While Hanrahan is behind O’Gara and Ian Keatley, Jackson has been given a clear run at the Ulster No10 jersey with Niall O’Connor as the only specialist back up after Iain Humphreys’ move to London Irish. Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Wallace and Stuart Olding have all filled in at ten at one stage or another but Jackson is the main man. Meanwhile Hanrahan has played for a UL Bohs team that is propping up Division 1A. Sport is seen as meritocratic so if one player is playing for Ireland and the other for his club then the former must be superior. The truth in this matter is more relative than absolute but the confidence gained by having a prominent champion and bountiful opportunity probably makes it self-fulfilling. Hanrahan’s opportunities at Munster will be in a large part dictated by the Chairman of the Board’s contract decision. If O’Gara keeps playing he will get a lot of game time. In that case Hanrahan, and Irish rugby, would be better off if the Currow man was to sign for Ulster and compete with Jackson. However, Hanrahan signed a two-year deal for Munster around Christmas and seems prepared to take his chances/learn from the master/try and knock Radge off his perch. Due to the parochial nature of the game in Ireland that sort of move has not proved popular but those transfers are the sort of talent optimisation that the yet to be appointed “director of operations type-role, equivalent to Rob Andrew in the RFU, that is apparently about to be created within Irish rugby” (sic) may well endorse.
Shane Layden has probably run into traffic at the other end of the age spectrum in the form of Robbie Henshaw. Usually young players who have yet to make an impact are spoken of knowledgably as possessing great potential. When your rival is younger than you then your name doesn’t get mentioned as often! Henshaw has been championed by Elwood and has maintained the full back position even when Gavin Duffy has been fit. I’m a big fan of Gavin Duffy and believe that he has a more rounded skill set than Henshaw but I stand accused of not watching a huge number of Connacht games. Connacht fans out there care to correct me about the merits of Duffy v Henshaw? Because of injury, the matter is academic and Layden has played very little rugby this season.
Conor Gilsenan and Luke McGrath both play for UCD. I am wholly against the premium clubs put on the u20 level in Leinster and I believe that it has been detrimental to participation numbers in Dublin in particular. I believe that UCD were one of the main agitating forces behind its current place in the domestic spectrum and that now the status quo prevails because getting Irish rugby clubs to agree on anything is like trying to herd cats so there is no change. Anyway, I digress, that’s a discussion for another day.
Because UCD can attract so much talent and place such an emphasis on u20 level, their best (underage) players play mainly meaningless fixtures against teams that are unable to match them while improving their weights and walking around Belfield in snazzy training clobber. How Luke McGrath, who has played off the bench for the full Leinster team, benefits from playing at u20s level against guys who have quite possibly been on the sauce the night before is beyond me. Interestingly, Cathal Marsh was McGrath’s half back partner on UCD’s u20 team in 2011-12 but this season is plying his trade with DUFC and getting first team action. Marsh started for Leinster ‘A’ in their B&I Cup quarter final win against Bristol with McGrath at scrum half.
Gilsenan’s appearances, that I am aware of, for UCD’s first team have been at blindside. For a player in Leinster’s academy measuring 1.87m and weighing 96kg, openside is the only position likely as a professional. (By way of comparison: Rhys Ruddock 1.91m, 111kg; Dom Ryan 1.93m, 106kg). Playing at blindside is not the same as openside and Gilsenan needs to play at 7 in order to develop the running lines, breakdown skills and reading of the game required for that position.
Having said all that, McGrath looks well poised to enjoy a professional career. Both Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan turn 33 this year and Reddan’s broken leg provides an opportunity for one of Cooney and McGrath to get some first team exposure. McGrath’s selection ahead of Cooney at half back in the B&I Cup indicates that he is under serious consideration for the bench in Leinster’s remaining games of the 2012-13 season, all of which are important to the club.
I read an interview with a New Zealand playwright years ago where he defined the day he became a man as the day he realised he’d never play for the All Blacks. The corresponding day has yet to arrive for any of the players under review here and Henderson, of course, has already made the grade. The IRFU’s stance on foreign players has changed markedly in recent seasons and presents more opportunities for young Irish talent. However, it also means that provinces won’t be able to bulwark their squad with top class international talent as in years gone by and young players will be required to maintain high standards when international players are unavailable. This is a good thing for Irish rugby in the long run but may involve discomfort for provincial supporters in the interim (imagine, for example, an Ulster with no Pienaar and Afoa) and should benefit the national team in future. We’ve long held the belief that there was no “golden generation” and look forward to the sustained competitiveness of the provincial teams in the seasons to come.
When you add in Olding, Jackson, Henshaw, Marmion with those five you could nearly go as far as saw we have a potential golden generation on the way.
An interesting one more of last years under 20s team has featured for Ireland then that of the under 20 grand slam winning team in 2007.
2007 U20s: Healy + Earls (debuts 2009)
2012 U20s: Henderson + Jackson (debuts 2012, 2013)
2008 U20s: Archer + Madigan (debuts 2013, 2013)
2009 U20s: Murray + O’Mahony (debuts 2011, 2012) + Madigan
2010 U20s: Zebo (debut 2012)
2011 U20s: Gilroy + L Marshall (debuts 2012, 2013) + Jackson + Henderson
typically 2 players step up to Senior International level 2-3 years later, of course the 2012 vintage should have more to add
2007 U20s: Felix Jones, Darren Cave, Ian Keatley and Sean O’Brien have all been capped.
Mole, reading through the player-by-player review it was Hanrahan who caught my eye as having the most interesting situation and, not for the first time, sure enough you spent a fair amount of time exploring that later in the article.
I watched Hanrahan’s Pro12 starting debut against the Dragons open-mouthed, he was utterly superb – even without the two tries – and If that happened in Australia or New Zealand he would have been picked again the following week. In the nearly six months since then he has featured six times, with two further starts.
Are we missing a trick here?
Totally agree,saw same game and was sure he was going to replace a misfiring Downey. after being so impressed by him during the U20 World Cup i thought i was watching a star emerging. Instead he has had limited game time. When Conway went to Munster and Sexton to France in the same week i hoped a JJ move to Leinster could have been a masterstroke.(especially if ROG is to play on next year.)sad it didn’t materialise.
Yossarian, you must have missed much of Madigan’s last two seasons if you thought Hanrahan would be signed by Leinster to replace Sexton. Madigan’s rave reviews have started since March this year…but he has been delivering since early last season and even playing well the previous one when called on.
Here here Eggy!!! The media caught up with Madigan’s excellence around March but he has been consistently good and improving over the last 2 seasons. I admire Joe’s insistence that he plays his “natural game” and forego moulding him into a Sexton marque II. This is a crucial difference, rather than having an idea of what an outhalf is and super-imposing this on a young player, the player is encouraged to bring their own flavour to proceeding and consequently they excel.
From what I’ve heard, JJ’s foray into Munster’s ranks has given him a small sense of entitlement. It had been noted that his games for UL, while still strong performances, were drenched with the sense that he was doing them a favour instead of really playing for them.
He’s not the first and certainly not the last to acquire this mental state, but a sharp rise can turn into a sharper fall after a small stall in progress.
Really enjoyed this as I followed the U20’s during the six nations(in particular) and the world cup, and have tried to follow as many of the lads as I can this season.
Henderson has come on exceptionally and agree with everything you say about his strengths.
Leinster have a lot of belief in the prospect that is McGrath, he seems like a born leader and as long as he keeps working on his pass I think he will turn into a great player in the Boss mould.
Havn’t seen as much of JJ Hanrahan this year but it would seem like there is going to be some serious competition for the number 10 spot in the next few years which can only be a good thing.Just as a matter of interest..do you consider Hanrahan an out and out 10 or can he play in the centre or at full back?
Great read again…fair play
Fabulous work – real value added. Thank you.
The comparison between Jackson and Hanrahan is fascinating. Very little in life is meritocratic as luck plays an enormous role. The world is littered with talented individuals who picked up serious injuries at just the wrong time or tried to make it at inside centre having been born in the same year as BOD.
2 great articles, great original and great follow-up.
Keep up the good work. Please!
Mole I had to do a double take there at the suggestion that JJ Hanrahan should sign for Ulster. I still can’t work out if the point was illustrative of his potentially difficult route into Munster’s first team, or if it would actually be a productive situation for all involved.
I don’t accuse this blog of being obtuse or insensitive, but few sources cite the difficulty Jackson must of have in being where he is. He hasn’t had a conventional struggle over a more experienced team mate in which his ability saw him prevail, he’s been learning on the job in some high profile games, and I don’t think any other province has had a young player capable of that.
I remember when I first saw Jackson play underage, he always tried to pull of too much and in many ways still does, but he was always head and shoulders above everyone else. I also remember what it was like to have the creativity and decision making of Ian Humphreys (and very often lack there of) in the 10 shirt. When Jackson got the backing last year he mightn’t of deserved it but he was still the best man at the time. What has followed, some of which hasn’t been great, only clarifies that Ulster should be building around him, very successful teams have been built on less.
Great piece, really interesting level of detail. As a Munster fan I’m really afraid of losing JJ if O’Gara plays on. I recognise it might be helpful to the country, but it’s hard not to want to both have and eat cake. He looks supremely talented – while some Munster fans have worried over Penney’s tactics, it’s his failure to play the likes of JJ and CJ that have me concerned.
Really good mole. My own favourite sign of a good player is doing well in a team which isn’t playing well on the day. Fair to say Henderson passed that test at the weekend. In jwc terms his performances were in the Eztebeth/ Lawes calibre (who were brilliant at that grade). Maybe not just as big (or maybe not), but with more football and versatility in my opinion. It is good to see him being brought through over the past two years, though I take your point about that at least partially being aided by injuries and I really like your self fulfilling line on a similar theme in relation to hanrahan – Jackson. We are getting into interesting questions about the make up of the summer tour squad…..
I remember posting wondering how Schmidt would keep all his good back rowers happy a few years ago and wondered where the next good young back rower was going to go. I was way off. Not only (on the surface anyway) has he kept a happy ship, but has also brought in Murphy and others since then. Munster have similar issues now at 10 in a less attritional position. It will have to be equally well handled. Simon, I would class hanrahan as a 10 who can play 12 rather than the other way round, but I know he was converted from 12 in the u20s. Would be interested to hear the mole’s and other opinions on that though.
McGrath looks a clinking scrum half to me. Very, very sharp. Leinster are well off in that position for sure. Good luck to the other two as well. Maybe luck is the wrong word, but may they avoid injury and make the most of the opportunities they get!
I’ve heard of henshaw mooted as a possible 13. I have seen nothing of him in that position, but if it were possible it would add a few options for connacht’s backline.
Great follow-up piece Mole. McGrath looked set to kick on this season. For me, the reason that hasn’t happened is that Cooney has actually improved hugely. Having watched him from schoolboy level, I have to confess I didn’t think he had what it takes…but he has delivered in spades when called on this season. He has to be one of the best passing scrumhalves in Ireland this season. McGrath remains an exciting prospect though.
The battle for the 3rd SH spot would have been really interesting and intense this year if Luke hadn’t been sick.
Illness definitely part of the explanation but credit where credit is due for Cooney. He has clearly worked on his game (McGrath only missed part of the season).
Not knocking Cooney at all.
The illness timed with UCD selecting other SH’s for AIL and then settling on others etc… have been barriers to Lukes progress.
Cooney has been great for Lansdowne all year.
couldn’t reply to your reply earlier-point about JJ to Leinster wasn’t for him to replace Madigan-been dying for Madigan to get a chance to start(thought he would have left if sexton hadn’t this year to be honest) but was confident that when it happened he would be involved with international duty JJ would get better opportunity in leinster as back up.This was prior to Jimmy Goperth signing.
Before you start having a go at UCD,which you are entitled to, get your facts straight.Luke McGrath does not represent the club at u21 level. He plays for the Senior 1st xv
Really? Why do Jamie Glynn and Rob Shanley start ahead of him then?
He was playing and captaining Ireland u20s in the six nations,prior to that he has started when he has been available except when playing Leinster A or higher honours
great piece though.very thorough
Just wanted to say thanks for giving exiles like me a heads up on who is coming down the line. I saw Henderson and Hanrahan’s exploits at the last JWC on TV and thought both were wonderful prospects but that apart little opportunity to see what is around the corner. Thanks again.
Good article Mole. However, between the emergence of Olding – as much 10 as 12 at this point – and McKinney’s heavily rumoured signing, sending Hanrahan to Ulster would be coals to Newcastle.
With regard to Hanrahan’s development, Penney is on record as saying that he intends bringing JJ through slowly (and mentioned that he had some experience of bringing through outhalfs like Dan Carter!). Carter was played at 12 for about 2 seasons under the wing of Mehertens and it seems that is the plan decided for JJ mentored by ROG for a year or two. Someone also mentioned on Munsterfans that Simon Mannix is the one that is putting the brakes on rushing JJ through as a result of his own experiences.
inyourfacespacecoyote – JJ signed up for another 2 years, so he must be buying into the career path that is being laid out for him.
As an Ulster fan, I’m intrigued to know more about the 10 “sitiuation” at Munster as their fans see it.
O’Gara’s departure from the national team has been a bitter affair where, despite his almost peerless standing in Irish rugby history, his own fans have been pleading for him to be dropped.
There doesn’t seem to be the same degree of clamouring for him to retire from the red jersey despite Munster apparently having reasonable options in this position.
As an interested observer, I read this situation as follows: Keatley will be a decent stop-gap from O’Gara retiring unitl JJ matures sufficiently but a twilight O’Gara is better than a prime Keatley so there is no rush to push ROG out the door.
In short, O’Gara is a “dynasty player”, Keatley is not and JJ has the potential to be.
Is this accurate among Munster fans or a bit wide of the mark and unfair on Keatley? If this is the case, it seems that it is Keatley and not O’Gara who is holding back JJ’s development.
zdm – that would about cover it. Keatley is a very good stop gap player (seems to be a great team player as well and Munster are lucky to have him).
Not sure there were that many Munster fans clamouring for ROG to be dropped by Ireland (mostly through lack of interest). Most the media thought that he should have been starting ahead of Paddy Jackson against Scotland and certainly a lot were not happy in the manner in which he was dropped.
There’s a danger of rewriting history here. The linked feature on Henderson talks about him as getting plucked out of uni rugby a year ago. He’s progressed incredibly rapidly but he had a full year of U20s and had been Ulster academy. He’s not some kid who was discovered when he showed up for the J5s.
Injuries have given him opportunities, but he was always set to break through. Other players have warmed benches even with similar injury situations ahead of them. Henderson was moving up the depth chart regardless of the injury situation. It’s not like Munster are blessed in terms of 12s, JJ just isn’t being picked.
There are some reasons to compare PJ and JJ, and the way the different provinces operate is interesting, but at the end of last season— PJ was as secure in his jersey as ROG in his (or more so) and had started HC finals. JJ was yet to make his Munster debut. We knew ( or should have known) that their trajectories would be different for now.
It looks like Ulster are doing better at knowing when to change up the pace of progression for young players. They’ve invested heavily in promoting Henderson and PJ so aggressively. Players often recover from setbacks; McFadden slowed a little, Madigan has surprised many with his development, Kevin McLaughlin is a key player, Henry and McCarthy have stepped up. There’s still time.
I see that Furlong has slipped off the radar. Tightheads can take time, especially injured ones.
We included Furlong in the JWC edition and the comments section of Year 0 but have left him out of this for consistency – he appears in the comments again! Absolutely, more than any position I think tighthead takes time but he looked ready when taking on the Baby Bokke last year! Leinster will be relieved to have held on to Marty Moore and Tadhg Furlong for next season as they would get game time at any of the other provinces. I’ll be very interested to see which of the summer tours they are picked for.
We’ll see where he is in another year.
The thing with Henderson is that Ulster had other options, they liked Henderson. He’s a freak.
JJ has been underplayed, and I don’t think it has helped his development at all. He’s getting hyped, and he has time to inflate his ego rather than concentrate on his game. That said he’s still got respectable enough experience from the season so far.
“We’ve long held the belief that there was no “golden generation” and look forward to the sustained competitiveness of the provincial teams in the seasons to come.”
Love your finishing line Moley but I would also extend it to International level as well. I am blue in the face telling people Irish Rugby has never been stronger. Sustained success using a broad number of players is entirely feasible and hoping for “Golden Generations” to grace us periodically in order to be successful is traditional but illogical thinking. However the poor-mouth “aw shucks” mind-set runs deep in the Irish psyche. Sustained success at International level is for countries like Wales apparently.
Sustained success is anathema to a lot of Irish people. As an example of this, I reckon a good 30 or so percent of Irish people hated the Celtic Tiger and railed against it. They are in fact now much happier that Ireland is again seen as a basket case. For them, other than the occasional magnificent victory in the face of overwhelming odds, success should be for other people.
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