Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Henry knows the score as Ulster face Montpellier

Try that: Chris Henry would love to add to his try tally when Ulster face Montpellier

Winning can be just as much about belief as it is performance and Chris Henry accepts that Ulster have to buy heavily into both concepts in their approach to getting a result on their first visit to Montpellier's bear-pit of a ground today.

Indeed, the prospect of looking at a losing bonus point as an acceptable outcome is swiftly batted away as defeatist talk. Winning again in France is the sole focus and nothing less will really do for the flanker who turned 29 on Thursday.

Believing it can be done is central to the build-up. There was a time when a trip to France was fundamentally about damage limitation, but not now and Henry illustrates just what it will be like in that key moment before hostilities break out in what is sure to be a raucous atmosphere at Stade Yves du Manoir.

"We want to achieve things and when you look at the players around you in that huddle, well, you know there's no reason why we can't," Henry explains.

"We're going there because we think we're a good enough side to beat them and that's the only way to approach it."

Of course they know only too well what it's like to play in France though 2012's losing visit to Clermont was particularly eye-opening for the squad and not only in terms of the crescendo of noise coming from the home supporters.

But, crucially, it was also an important staging post in the side's evolution as they came very close to ending Clermont's awesome home record, before narrowly losing 19-15.

Then, the next season, with the experience banked, Ulster went one better and grabbed a famous if hardly stirring 9-8 victory at Castres to leave French soil for the first time as victors.

Henry, who skippered Ulster at Castres last January, knows what to expect and, after the huddle is over, Ulster just have to start like they mean business.

"One of the massive things when you go to France are the fans," he says. "They're a bit like the Ravenhill fans as they are amazing but if they (French fans) get behind their team early doors it then gives their players a real buzz.

"So we have to quieten the crowd and start the game well and then make sure we stay in it. If we do all that, chances will come for us," adds the six times Ireland capped player.

Ulster therefore need to resist the expected storm which the in-form Montpellier – who won at Treviso in their European opener – will aim to unleash on a ground where they have not lost this season and where they have already overwhelmed Toulouse and Clermont in the domestic Top 14 Championship.

To Henry, Ulster's big game experience will need to come to the fore in what is sure to be a torrid opening quarter. Focus and discipline are the watchwords this week.

"In these games you're so pumped up before them and everyone's buzzing and banging heads off the wall, but if you come out there with too much of that, that's when you can give away those silly penalties, so we've got to be focused.

"We're an experienced team now and even the young guys are playing extremely well so we're not in a bad place at all," Henry maintains.

Unsurprisingly, taming Montpellier's notably large pack will be essential if Ulster are to make good on their intentions.

Last weekend, after a wobbly enough start, things went well against a notably muscular and Lions-peppered Leicester front five, but this is new territory against the French.

"Leicester are a big pack and Montpellier are an even bigger pack," Henry admits.

"We know what we're going to face though as we have to match them in their physicality and get our scrum, our lineout and our maul going."

Against Leicester, Ulster started badly and, though they clawed their way back to lead at the break, they knew that they had to inject greater accuracy and precision into all aspects of their game.

"We felt that if we kept the tempo high and moved them around that it would come good," Henry recalls and there is no escaping the notion that this will again be a primary factor in Ulster's bid to upset the odds.

"A common theme over the last few weeks is that we've created a lot of try scoring opportunities but we've not taken them.

"We are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to rectify that," says Henry.

Still, there is no escaping the fact that Ulster, though they got off to a winning start against the Tigers, failed to prevent Toby Flood and co from escaping Belfast with a valuable losing bonus point.

"Personally, I was gutted," is how Henry views it a week on.

"Look at the past years when one point really killed us.

"But the most important thing for us was to get the four points," he says before looking ahead.

"Look, we've won in France before and we're confident we're going there to get the win."

Achieving is all about believing.

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