Belfast Telegraph

Ulster v Munster: Chris Henry tipping Paddy Jackson for big things in the future

By Jonathan Bradley

With Ireland's extended World Cup squad set to be revealed this weekend, Chris Henry is expecting those on the fringes of the national set-up to approach today's inter-provincial derby between Ulster and Munster with added zeal.

The contest at the Kingspan Stadium will have a significant bearing on the four-team battle for a home semi-final in the PRO12 but the flanker admits that those with international aspirations will also have the watching Irish coaches on their minds.

"Deep down every player thinks about it," said the 16-times capped Malone man. "If you ask any players in the mix, we're going into this game knowing that this is our last trial match. That's the extra incentive.

"Hopefully, there'll be a guaranteed four or five Ulster players on the plane but I think that there's an extended few, maybe the guts of seven of us, that have a chance."

One such player is Paddy Jackson, who, having been dropped from the Ireland squad for the 2014 Six Nations decider before suffering injuries to his back and elbow, has not been capped since March of last year.

However, following his most recent return from the treatment table, and especially in the win against Leinster a fortnight ago, Jackson has been playing in an authoritative fashion that Henry believes bodes well for both the young number 10's World Cup hopes and Ulster's PRO12 aspirations.

"Paddy Jackson for me is the key one," he opined. "He was out for the Six Nations with his elbow injury but the way he's been playing lately, the kid is on fire.

"If we can keep him fit and healthy, he's the number one important player for us (Ulster) to win this thing. He's one of the leaders of this team and he's really starting to come into his own.

"He's one who will feature if he keeps going the way he is."

Henry's own quest to make it to a World Cup - he was first capped in 2010 but didn't appear in green again until the summer of 2012 - was derailed last November when, having started seven consecutive Tests as Ireland's openside, he suffered a heart problem.

Now though, having racked up 180 minutes in the three games since his comeback, he is in the reckoning once again and will be going head to head with a direct rival for a squad place in the shape of Tommy O'Donnell today.

Motivated by both a spot in Joe Schmidt's World Cup side and the potential of a first medal with Ulster, Henry will be saving any further introspection on his turbulent year for after the season.

"When I'm sitting on the beach this summer I may well think, 'Did all this actually happen?' but hopefully it will be with a (PRO12) winners medal round my neck and that will be the big high after such a massive low," he said.

And Tommy Bowe, one of the few survivors from Ulster's last trophy success - the Celtic League in 2006 - feels that a PRO12 title is long overdue.

"It's been nine years since Ulster won it and it seems like a long, long time ago," he explained.

"I think the team is ready for success. We've talked about it over the last couple of years but we really want to push on.

"We've got the team, we've got the squad, we have the support and we have the facilities. Everything is there."

Chris Henry and Tommy Bowe were talking to Ulster fans as part of the Guinness Rugby Road Show held at the Errigle Inn in Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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