JAKE Henderson says that consistency of selection has played a big part in his improved form this season.
The second row spent much of last season vying for a place in the Basingstoke team alongside Andy Hore and Steve Drawbridge, with the trio regularly rotating in and out of the team.
This stiff competition certainly kept all three men on their toes – but it also meant that there was little chance for any particular pairing to form a partnership.
This year, with Drawbridge departing the scene, Hore and Henderson have established themselves as ’Stoke’s first choice second row partnership.
Henderson said: “Losing Steve was a blow to the club because he is an experienced and very good player, but it has definitely helped me personally.
“I felt under a lot more pressure last year because I knew the others were breathing down my neck and one bad performance would see me out of the side. Some people need pressure to play at their best, but I feel that I play better when there is less pressure.
“There is still competition because there are some really good young lads coming through but I feel that the shirt is my own now.
“I have been a lot more consistent this season. Last year I tended to have a couple of good games followed by a couple that were not so good, but this year I have been better overall.
“I am good mates with Andy Hore and we have played together since we were colts. We know each other really well, which makes playing together a lot easier.”
One area where Henderson has certainly improved is try-scoring. Having failed to cross the whitewash for the first team at all before this season, he now has three tries to his name.
“It’s nice to get on the scoresheet every now and then,” the 24-year-old added. “A couple of times it has looked a bit funny because I think I am scared of open spaces but it’s all about being in the right place at the right time.”
Next up for ’Stoke is a tricky-looking trip to Hove on Saturday. The Sussex side may sit in mid-table but they upset Basingstoke’s promotion rivals Chichester just before Christmas and boast some dangerous backs.
Henderson said: “Hove are always a strong side, especially at home. I think they had a few players missing when they came up to play us because we managed to put a few points on them. I expect it to be a lot tougher at their place.
“We certainly cannot afford to get complacent. Some of the backs Hove have got are very good and they are a well-drilled side. We need to go there and play our game because I’m not sure they’ll be able to match us up front.
“We seem to be dominating teams up front and I think it is our main strength. We have been able to blow a few teams off the park.”
Overall, the mood at the club seems very positive, something Henderson puts down to the ethos introduced by director of rugby James Croker and his coaching team.
“Since the new coaches took over there has been a massive change in the whole squad,” he said. “We seem to be more of a team.
“There has been more consistency in the squad, whereas in the past we had players coming in for a couple of weeks, while the atmosphere has been great over the last two seasons.”