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Relieved Iain Henderson has his eyes on shot at PRO12 glory with Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 21/05/2015

Fun time: Ulster Rugby and Ireland star Iain Henderson returns to his old school to help Ben Madigan Preparatory School launch its annual Family Fun Day on Saturday, May 30
Fun time: Ulster Rugby and Ireland star Iain Henderson returns to his old school to help Ben Madigan Preparatory School launch its annual Family Fun Day on Saturday, May 30

Had there been a different outcome to his disciplinary hearing last week, Ulster's Iain Henderson could have been kicking his heels and watching tomorrow night's PRO12 semi-final in Glasgow as a frustrated spectator.

As it was, the bulldozing forward had his red card against Munster overturned and the 23-year-old admits to a feeling of relief when he found out his season wasn't to be curtailed.

"Given that I was told no red card in the PRO12 had ever been overturned, I was going over with the thought that there wasn't much chance," he admitted. "Whether they said it was going to be a one-week ban, or a two-week ban, or a three-week ban, I was worried but luckily it didn't work out that way.

"It was good news for me… I really didn't want my summer to be three weeks longer."

Despite his relative youth, with two Six Nations medals already in his collection, Henderson is one of the more decorated players in Ulster's squad yet he says to win the PRO12 on home soil come May 30 would be something special.

"It would be brilliant," enthused the man who has some experience of a Ravenhill showpiece after a Schools' Cup final with Belfast Royal Academy in 2010.

"Obviously we had the home final two years ago but because the stadium wasn't quite finished yet we ended up playing essentially an away final (the loss to Leinster in the RDS) after finishing top of the league.

"It would be the reverse of that this year after finishing fourth but being home anyway.

"We know it's a massive challenge to get there though and Glasgow are obviously a fantastic team. They're the team to beat if you look at the stats but, if we're on our money, there's no reason that we can't be the team to overturn them."

Sure to be named among the starters when Neil Doak's side is revealed this afternoon, what's less clear is the role Henderson will fill. Injury to Franco van der Merwe means a change at lock is required and Henderson's versatility could see him named in the engine room rather than his preferred back-row role.

"I've been training this week, as I normally do, at both back-row and lock just so that I can cover both as best I can," he said.

"I'll play wherever I'm picked and just be looking forward to getting some game time if selected."

Cian Healy has handed Ireland coach Joe Schmidt a major fitness boost ahead of the World Cup.

The loosehead prop underwent neck surgery to replace a disc two weeks ago and doubts had emerged over his participation in September's World Cup, but the 27-year old is confident that he will be fit enough to return to action by the end of July.

"I'm feeling pretty good. The muscles around the neck are all much better," Healy said. "There's still a lot of swelling from the procedure. Once that goes down, I'll have a much better gauge of how my arm feels.

"I'm building up prevention for it now to make sure it doesn't happen again. There's going to be something going wrong for me to not make the World Cup. From now there's not much that can go wrong. The surgery was successful."

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