Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Henry targets club success with an eye on Irish caps

Ireland hopes: Chris Henry

There was rather more going on this week than usual for Ulster.

Even though the focus has been on returning to the bread and butter of the PRO12 for the unbeaten league leaders, Chris Henry was dealing with the added distractions of being named stand-in skipper for the clash at the Dragons tonight (7.05pm) while also being listed in the Ireland squad for next month’s autumn internationals.

Neither development was entirely surprising with the ultra-consistent Henry always likely to get the nod from Mark Anscombe to lead the side following Johann Muller’s thumb injury, while Declan Kidney was also never going to exclude the in-form flanker in his expanded squad.

The 28-year-old is looking in pretty decent shape to add to his two caps over the course of the crucial games against South Africa and Argentina which mean so much to Ireland’s World Cup ranking for 2015.

Typically, Henry was keen to downplay the possibility of another run-out in a green shirt.

“I haven’t been thinking about it too much,” he said, though the desire to taste international rugby again — his second outing was as a replacement in June’s 60-0 third Test thrashing in New Zealand — is still only too evident.

“Obviously I’d love to get a start and get that number seven jersey, but unfortunately there are a few other people who are playing extremely well,” Henry stated, though when it comes to power and presence at the breakdown he looks out in front of the currently fit competition.

“Ultimately the concern is that I play well for Ulster and keep that number seven jersey and anything else that comes my way I’ll grab it whenever that time comes,” is how he parks the subject matter of further international game time.

On the strength of his performance at the rain-lashed Scotstoun last week, when Ulster ground out a second Heineken Cup win to establish themselves at the top of Pool Four, Henry did his Irish claims no harm at all when showing on numerous occasions his ability to snaffle Glasgow’s possession at the breakdown.

He even managed to get his hands on the ball as Ulster mauled their way over the Warriors’ line, impressively spinning out of a tackle for what turned out to be a decisive score in last Friday’s arm-wrestle of an encounter.

It was a game that suited Henry so well, allowing him to roll up his sleeves and graft hard.

There was nothing flash from the converted number eight, just dependable anticipation of what needed to be done as he used his intelligence and skill to help turn things Ulster’s way.

“It’s taken me time to work at it,” is how he explains his transformation into an openside flanker.

“Some people have said being able to play more than one position has gone against me in the past. I would differ with that and I’m happy to be versatile.

“I do enjoy the breakdown,” Henry added. “And that physical side of it. Over the last two seasons I’ve tried hard to focus on the breakdown, but I feel like I’m a good link player as well.”

As for Ulster’s rich vein of form, he ponders how this has come about, while emphasising that seven straight wins guarantees nothing when it comes to the distribution of silverware at the end of the campaign.

“Ultimately it’s the belief we have in what we’re doing,” he said.

“There’s a belief that if things don’t go well at times in the game, you still have that confidence you’re going to go on and get the win.

“But things can change so quickly and if you get caught up in thinking about that sort of stuff (the current winning run) that’s whenever you can go and get bitten,” he added before making a resounding statement of intent.

“As for me, I think there’s still more to come.”

No better man to lead the Ulster charge in Newport.

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