Obituary: Noel Henderson

Click to follow
Noel Henderson represented what now seems a better, more golden era for the game of rugby in Ireland. Outside his playing career he left an indelible mark on rugby as a selector and administrator.

He will perhaps be best remembered for his role in the 9-6 win over Australia at Lansdowne Road in January 1959, a landmark victory in that it constituted Ireland's first win over a touring international side from the southern hemisphere. Taking a pass from Davey Hewitt on the half-way line, and with all of Ireland willing him on, Henderson completed a famous try which sealed Ireland's win.

Henderson was universally regarded within the game as one of its most personable characters. Forever in a good mood, friendly, approachable and with a ready wit, he was one of the dominant personalities in Irish rugby in the last half-century.

He was educated at Foyle College in Derry, and at Queen's University, Belfast, where his talent as a strong-running, hard-tackling centre outside of Jackie Kyle first came to prominence. Kyle was a lifelong friend, and Henderson would subsequently marry his sister, Betty, herself a distinguished Irish international hockey player.

Henderson's international rugby career began before his 21st birthday, in February 1949, with Ireland's 13-3 win over Scotland at Murrayfield. He had broken into what was probably Ireland's greatest side ever, for the ensuing 5-0 win over Wales in St Helen's Swansea, a fortnight later, enabled Ireland to retain both the Triple Crown and the championship.

Despite being restricted to just one appearance in the 1950 Five Nations Championship, Henderson was chosen for the subsequent Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand later that summer, under Karl Mullen. He played in the third test against New Zealand on the wing.

He was a fixture on the 1951 Irish side that again won the championship, only being denied another Triple Crown and Grand Slam by a 3-3 draw with Wales in Cardiff. Henderson's contribution to that campaign was crucial for he scored drop goals in both the 9-8 win over France in Dublin and the 6-5 win over Scotland in Murrayfield.

A prolific scorer, his Irish career ultimately spanned 11 years, and 40 caps. He eventually became the team's captain against Scotland in 1956, whereupon he led the side for the next two seasons. The 1958-59 season was his denouement on the international stage, when he passed on the captaincy of the side to Ronnie Dawson and switched to full-back.

He continued to play for NIFC, also alongside Kyle, whom he joined from Queen's, and served as both player and administrator captaining the club and later becoming its president. He also became NIFC'S representative on the Ulster branch, where he served a term as President.

Henderson was both an Ulster and Irish selector, and after more than a decade on the IRFU progressed to serve as the Union's president as well. But he was no mere bureaucrat, and was renowned for his tremendous voice. A noted party piece was his version of "The Glens of Antrim".

Noel Joseph Henderson, rugby player and administrator: born 10 August 1928; married Betty Kyle (four daughters); died 27 August 1997.

Comments