Josh Henderson is living the American dream playing alongside Ma’a Nonu

Scottish playmaker hopes to end an enjoyable season by helping San Diego Legion claim the MLR title on Saturday evening

Josh Henderson in action for San Diego Legion. Image: San Diego Legion
Josh Henderson in action for San Diego Legion. Image: San Diego Legion

FORMER Scotland Under-20s cap Josh Henderson admits it is “very surreal” playing alongside All Backs legend Ma’a Nonu as the duo get ready to try and help San Diego Legion lift more silverware this weekend.

The 25-year-old stand-off who came through the ranks at Howe of Fife and Strathallan School joined the Californian Major League Rugby outfit towards the end of the 2022 season after a spell in Hong Kong.

Before that he had been involved in senior rugby with Glasgow Hawks, Stade Niçois in France and Stirling Wolves, as well as being part of the Glasgow Warriors Academy and being involved with the Scotland Sevens set-up.


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After a ‘stop-start’ spell in Hong Kong – who he qualifies to play for through family – due to the pandemic, this year has brought plenty of game time in the USA since the campaign began in February and he has impressed many with the way his game has developed.

Legion have been in top form in recent months and the Scot was a replacement as his club won their Conference by defeating Seattle Seawolves 32-10 on home turf at the Snapdragon Stadium last Sunday. That means they will take on New England Free Jacks at the SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, this Saturday (8pm UK time) in the Championship final.

In the last few years Major League Rugby has started to attract a few big names from around the globe – and one of the biggest is the aforementioned Nonu. He may be 41 now, but the man who earned over 100 New Zealand caps and won two World Cups can still pack a punch from centre.

“Playing alongside Ma’a has been very surreal,” Henderson, whose club in Hong Kong was USRC Tigers, said. “He is one of the most complete, if not the most complete, rugby player to have ever played the game, so as a stand-off to have someone like that outside you fills you with confidence.

“I have a lot to thank him for, he spends a lot of time going over my game with me and helping me to get better. We look at clips together and he gives me suggestions while just picking his brain is great because he is a fountain of knowledge who has done everything there is to do in the game.

“We love having him around, he is a really good bloke, he makes us all better.”

 

Although he is suspended for Saturday’s match because of a recent red card, Legion’s regular skipper Blair Cowan, the former Scotland openside, Nonu and other senior players have created an impressive environment at the Legion alongside head coach Danny Lee.

“The rugby culture here is amazing,” Henderson explained. “We have such a diverse group in terms of our backgrounds, our ages and our experience and it’s all come together nicely, it really is the best rugby culture I have ever been involved in. It might sound clichéd, but we really are a family here and a big group of brothers.

“We have some very experienced players here and the leadership group is headed up by Blair and Ma’a. Blair really keeps an eye out for the younger lads and has done a lot for us.

“I have so many guys around me to learn from and I feel like I learn something in every training session.

“There are four stand-offs at the club, two of them have played Super Rugby [Australians Alex Horan and Luke Burton] and one has played in the Premiership [English-born Will Hooley] in England, so coming in I was lower down the pecking order.

“I started the season as first choice though and had a good run of games before being pushed down to second choice more recently. I have been working hard on the ‘work-ons’ though and I know whatever role I have to play it’s an important one.

“Danny Lee is the kind of head coach who is very transparent and doesn’t leave you guessing. He has been very honest with me which is what I love. I am clear in my mind what I have to work on ahead of next year to be a consistent starter.

“I am maturing as a player now, maybe before I was a bit immature and tried to ‘play’ too much at times, but now I understand the momentum swings of a game much better and know when to kick and how to manage things at different times.”

Henderson, who was involved in the national under-20 squad which achieved a fifth-place finish at the World Rugby Championship in Georgia in 2017, now lives in Encinitas – “the weather is amazing, I am two minutes from the beach” – and is clearly loving life on and off the pitch in the USA, with a win for Legion in the Championship final this weekend offering a dream end to an excellent season.

“We were pleased with the performance against Seattle in the Conference final because they are a good side,” Henderson said of last weekend’s victory against a Seahawks’ squad featuring fellow Scot James Malcolm.

“They are very physical, but we had not lost any games at home in the Snapdragon Stadium up to that point and we were determined to keep that record going.

“We played really well and we understood – and executed – the gameplan perfectly after a great training week.

“This weekend, New England will bring a lot of line-speed and in play-off rugby we know that anything can happen. They are a physical side and they have made the most dominant tackles in the league this year.

“This week we have just focused on ourselves, we have done that all year and it has worked for us, so we are sticking to that

“We are excited for the weekend and we really are focused on finishing the job.”

New England made the final by defeating Old Glory DC 25-7 in their own Conference final last Saturday while San Diego beat them 29-12 when they met in the regular season, but that was back in February.


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About Gary Heatly 437 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.