Heineken Cup: Henry ready to get down and dirty for Ulster
With the week that it is, extra media requests go with the territory, but as Chris Henry and Johann Muller strolled up from scrummaging practice they hardly saw this one coming.
With a tractor sitting nearby the pair were asked to lean on said vehicle and pose for some pictures. No problem, but as Muller made his escape Henry was then nabbed for some extra shots.
After firstly sitting on the front of the machine he was then invited to stand on top of it and crouch down as if about to presumably nail some Northampton player only if, of course, he could avoid injury by sailing off the end of said tractor in pursuit of his victim.
Still, Heineken Cup quarter-finals are rare enough things around these parts that it seems fitting that you might do something that’s, well, just a little bit different, and Henry is good-humoured enough to go with the flow on this one while, inside, Brian McLaughlin has been extolling his 26-year-old back rower as Ulster’s “Mr Consistency”.
It’s not idle talk either as last season’s skipper has stepped up to the plate with a number of tremendously industrious displays as Ulster’s back row continues to deal with Stephen Ferris’s lengthening absence.
His natural position is No 8, and his game has been built around the ball skills and game-reading ability required of the position, but Henry has adjusted to also going about his job on the flank where his work-rate has earned him the coach’s praise.
“Every time I take on the shirt I try to aim to be consistent and I try to just work hard and just do the dirty work to be honest,” he says with equal amounts of modesty and honesty.
His extra physicality looks set to see him make the starting line-up for Sunday where he will more than likely be opposite England international Tom Wood, who was one of four Saints’ players to have experienced the hammering the Ireland side handed out to England last month.
Not that the angle on Wood’s thirst for revenge is bothering Henry who knows that, with ex-Ulster player Roger Wilson — who Henry played with at Ulster and Ireland A level — also in the Saints’ back row, the battle in this area will be crucial to how Ulster fare at stadium:mk.
“Everyone is going to have to bring their ‘A’ game to this one,” Henry says.
“They’ve threats throughout their team and definitely their back row is a very important factor for them.
“I think the breakdown is going to be pretty huge and as a unit we’ve talked about it and we really need to be on our game. They are a very confrontational side and very direct and we need to make sure we front up.”
It looks a formidable task for Ulster, against a side that went unbeaten through the European group stages and is firing on all cylinders in the Aviva Premiership. But McLaughlin’s squad are mentally strong enough for the challenge which they have demonstrated by binning the hoodoo of not being able to win away from Ravenhill along with the impressive number of leaders and match-winners that have now come to the fore in the squad.
“We’re not afraid to go anywhere at the moment,” Henry says.
“We’ve gone away from home and got wins so that gives us confidence. Also, knowing that we’ve beaten Bath two years in a row, both at home and away, is massive for us.
“I think, as well, you’ve got guys now brought into the squad with huge experience and that’s definitely made a big difference,” Henry says.
“There’s a great balance of guys. You’ve got Rory and Johann saying the wise words to keep us all level-headed and then you’ve got that extra energy and enthusiasm from a guy who’s just getting his first few caps.”
As with the rest of the squad, he doesn’t really see that meeting the Saints away from their Franklin’s Gardens power base is a particular advantage to Ulster and dismisses such talk as simply not being relevant.
But he admits that there has been understandable difficulty in trying not to dwell on the huge importance of finally making the last eight in Europe again.
“Over the last couple of weeks it’s been hard not to let it get in the front of your mind.
“But we can’t let the excitement overawe us. We need to stay calm and cool because the bottom line is it’s another game of rugby,” Henry says as he gets himself back in the zone.
“As regards last week we know we need a bigger performance and we feel we still haven’t achieved anywhere near where we can be. Obviously there’s a lot at stake but this is where we want to be, having a go at these targets.”
He certainly sounds primed to aim high.