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'Andyman

Self-deprecation might not seem his strongest suit, but Piers Morgan tells a good story against himself concerning the ending in 2004 of his reign as Daily Mirror editor.

Andy Henderson is still playing rugby but he is also training to be a plumber   Photograph: Marc Turner
Andy Henderson is still playing rugby but he is also training to be a plumber Photograph: Marc Turner

A few days after his ousting he had to post a letter, and was astonished to discover that self-adhesive stamps were now available. In a decade in the editor's chair, such matters had never been his concern.

Andy Henderson last month experienced something similar when he travelled to Murrayfield to watch Scotland take on the All Blacks. The journey was straightforward enough, but as he neared the stadium he became snarled up in the west Edinburgh matchday traffic. Having had so many of his previous journeys to the ground eased by the screaming sirens of a police escort, the reality of what most supporters experience was something of an eye-opener.

More than four years have gone by since Henderson had last visited Murrayfield on the day of an international match. Back then, though, in February 2008, he was playing at inside centre for Scotland, winning his 50th cap. He would win three more, but all of those were away from home.

Henderson subsequently moved from Glasgow to Montauban and, finally, to Newcastle. Or rather, not quite finally, for having dropped out of the full-time professional game in 2011, he is now in his second season in the amateur ranks, playing RBS Championship League A rugby for GHA while working towards complet- ing his apprenticeship as a plumber.

So were there pangs of envy as he sat in the Murrayfield stand last month? "Not any more," the 32-year-old replied. "I'm so far removed from training full time and that whole world. I just really enjoyed it.

"When I was just out of the Scotland set-up it was quite difficult to watch because I knew all the guys who were still playing. When you still feel that you could be there, it's hard to take. But having been away from it for so long, and knowing that my fitness is nowhere near that level, I don't have those feelings any more.

"Anyway, as time goes by I seem to know fewer of the players. Obviously, there are quite a few still there who were playing when I was, but there are a lot who I just don't know at all. I've never met them, played against them or even seen much of them playing. It's all very different.

"In a few more years it will be a team where I don't know any of the players. It moves on so quickly."

Very few international players return to their roots when their professional careers are over. Cammie Murray went back to play a couple of seasons for Melrose, while Simon Webster is now on the books at Edinburgh Accies. For Henderson, however, the experience has been rejuvenating, and his dedication was rewarded this season when he was handed the GHA captaincy.

It is easy to suspect that someone who has played to packed crowds in some of the greatest stadiums in the world might struggle to muster the motivation to leg it round the one-man-and-a-dog grounds that his schedule now takes him to, but Henderson is untroubled by the contrast. He is still playing a game he loves, and he is doing it without the pressure that was the everyday reality of the time when rugby was his job.

He said: "If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever go back to club rugby then I would probably have said no. But now I'm really glad I have. When you are a professional player, it's all about the team winning, but you are aware that if you don't perform personally then your job is on the line. If you're playing terribly you are not going to last long even if the team are winning. In that environment you're probably more focused on yourself and on your own performance.

"Going back to the club game, I just get a lot of enjoyment when we win, and what I have done personally is not so important. It sets you up for a good week. So the enjoyment now is in the team winning and the team playing well. In the professional game there are individual repercussions for you after bad performances. It is your job that is on the line and you're always aware of that."

Unsurprisingly, Henderson's best memory of his time as an international is the August 2007 World Cup warm-up match against Ireland when he scored three tries. No Scottish back has equalled the feat since, although Ally Hogg notched a rare forward's hat-trick against Romania soon afterwards.

"I didn't score a lot of tries [his total touchdown haul for Scotland was eight] so that was pretty special," he said. "At the time, we were all trying to get places in the World Cup squad, so the timing was pretty good too."

But with a son of five, a three-year-old daughter and another child due this month, Henderson is too busy to dwell on the past. He has one jersey mounted on a wall at home, but little else. "It's nice to have a few wee reminders, but it's not a museum," he said. "Being a professional rugby player is a great job, but you always know it's going to come to an end. Life is very different now. I have my working week and the rugby is added on to that. When I was a professional it all just rolled into one.

"Trying to fit everything together is a little harder because the time commitment is much more. You have to squeeze in little bits of training here and there and then you have your Tuesday and Thursday night sessions as well as the Saturday game. But I like the routine of it. It suits me."

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