Chris Henry’s unabashed enthusiasm is an endearing quality.
The big Ballymena No. 8 makes no attempt to conceal his glee at having been chosen at No. 8 for tonight’s Ireland ‘A’ clash with Tonga at Ravenhill, or his delight that he will be playing on home turf.
“It’s brilliant. It means everything,” the 25-year old beams. “I’ve put a lot of hard work in this year and with Ulster doing so well a lot of us have been given the opportunity to be involved with Ireland and Ireland ‘A’.
“We’ve done well in getting a few more boys in. That was something we talked about at the start of the season. We knew that if Ulster did well more people would be involved when it came to naming national squads, so this is a really exciting time to be involved. Now we’re getting these opportunities, which is great.
“Everybody knows that the coaches — Declan Kidney and the others — are coming up to Ravenhill for this match, so they’re going to be there watching on Friday night. So everybody will want to put their case forward and hopefully give him some headaches when it comes to selecting future squads.
“We want to go out and give this our best shot. It’s an important match for all of us.”
His eagerness bubbles forth once again as he continues: “I think it’s up to us to grasp the opportunity. We’ve been given a great chance to prove something so it’s very much up to ourselves whether or not we seize it.
“I think the opportunity has been given because of the very hard work we have put in. Everybody at Ulster has worked very hard to create chances like this. Now we have been given one it’s up to us to make the most of it.
“Having reached this point, nobody wants to be taking a step back. The next one is the important one and it has to be a forward step.”
His delight at playing for Ireland ‘A’ at Ravenhill is obvious.
“The fact that it’s here means so much,” he says. “I hope there’s a good Ulster support at the match and that it turns out to be another of those great Friday nights at Ravenhill.
“A lot of the boys from down south have been talking to us about it and asking if we think the fans will turn out. They know about the Ravenhill reputation and they’re looking forward to sampling it on a night when the crowd is cheering for them for a change!
“I think having played here for Leinster or Munster they have always been playing against the team the crowd was supporting.
“All we’ve been able to tell them is that it’s a great home crowd and with us being the home team on Friday night hopefully there will be enough of them there to create that special Friday night Ravenhill atmosphere.
“With quite a few Ulster players involved — four of us starting, plus three on the bench — that might help attract a few.”
Whilst conceding that his knowledge of the Tongans as individual players is somewhat limited, he reckons he knows enough to be able to predict, with near-certainty, a very physical game with the tourists attempting to run with ball in hand at every opportunity.
“That’s the way they play; huge physicality and a desire to attack as and when they can,” he said. “But really it’s about us concentrating on our own game — winning our set-piece, staying structured, not trying to turn it into a sevens show and sticking to our game plan.
“Bottom line is that we’re looking forward to it and we’re looking for the win. We won the Churchill Cup during the summer, which was great, but we don’t want to take a step back from that. We want to continue that momentum by going out, playing well and winning. Those will be our goals and achieving those is what this match is all about.”