Chris Henry, who has deputised as captain in Rory Best’s injury-enforced absence, is delighted to see the fit-again hooker back in the Ulster fold.
Asked about the situation regarding the captaincy he said: “Rory and I joke about it, but as long as I’m on the pitch that’s all that matters to me.
“That’s all I’ve said all along; I don’t mind who captains the side so long as I’m in it.”
While Best recovered following summer surgery on a neck injury, Henry stepped up as a very good stand-in captain.
Such was his leadership of Ulster — and his own form — that he named as skipper of the Irish Wolfhounds side which beat Scotland A at Ravenhill two weeks ago.
But he makes no secret of his pleasure in having Best on board once again.
“Having Rory back is huge for us. Just having him back in training is a huge boost for everybody. You can just see everyone lift when he’s there,” Henry said.
“The guys have such regard for him and he sets such a high standard for himself that you can see everybody in the squad just raising their standards, too.
“Having someone of his quality is a massive plus for us. We’re dying to get him playing again for us.”
Significantly, Henry’s own leadership qualities shone through when he made a point of highlighting the parts played by those who wore the number two jersey while Best was sidelined.
“Nigel (Brady) and Andy (Kyriacou) have done themselves proud and have given the coaching staff headaches, which is what you want,” he said.
Then lauding Best anew he added: “For Rory to have been thrown back into Ireland duty, not having played, just shows you the calibre of the man.
“Not many players could do that.”
Regarding the return to the Ulster camp of the players who have been on international service he said: “Everybody’s been doing different duties, but I think we’ve all re-grouped really well.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to get back into it with different calls and different ways of playing, but I think we settled back in very well Monday-Tuesday.
“That’s everybody in the squad — the players who have been with
Ireland, Ireland A and the Ravens all have trained well this week.
“Everybody is just really excited to be back. Getting back into Ulster colours and getting ready for Ulster duty is good.”
While he admitted that Ulster suffered following the November break for the Autumn International series, the Ireland A captain does not expect a similar reaction this time.
“I think if you look back to what has happened in the past there has been that sort of trend,” he conceded.
“But I think we have matured since then and now, as things stand, the Magners League is our sole concentration.
“This season has seen progress and we have been more successful this year so obviously we’re very disappointed that at this stage we aren’t in the Amlin Cup.
“That means our only focus now is the Magners League. Everyone in the squad knows that.
“The top four is what we want and we know what we’re going to have to do in order to achieve that.
“We have to go out on Friday night with all guns blazing.
“The team coming to play us is one full of confidence, just like ourselves.
“They’ve just had a good win against Saracens so they’re coming over here feeling that they can get another one against us.”