Belfast Telegraph

Henry: The first step is slaying Dragons

By Michael Sadlier

He's sporting his own badge of honour from last weekend as several stitches above the left eye and some other impact marks on Chris Henry's face tell of what was a rather physical clash with Leicester Tigers.

Unusually for pre-season friendlies the game managed to get quite a bit of prominence, but only thanks to Dan Tuohy's early collision with Toby Flood which rendered the England out-half unconscious and bound for hospital last Saturday afternoon at Welford Road.

The scoreline didn't end too well for Ulster, 30-10, but Henry – who later shipped his own punishment on his first pitch action for Ulster since last May's PRO12 final – is sticking to the mantra that it was still a good workout for the squad against a close to full strength Tigers outfit and, as such, was just what was required ahead of tomorrow's RaboDirect PRO12 opener at the Dragons.

"I was glad I got some game time," he says despite the fresh scarring.

"It actually takes a while for the body to get used to the bumps and bruises again and the players are still all quite sore from Leicester as they were a big physical side," he adds with a smile, knowing full well that he absorbed some fairly visible impact from last weekend.

"It was probably good preparation for this week's game because any time we play the Dragons they are up there with the most physical teams in the league," Henry maintains.

Opening the lengthy league campaign with a win is clearly top of the 'to-do' list as Ulster crank it all up again while also bracing themselves to face the inevitable inquisition as to whether they can at last secure some silverware after following up 2012's losing Heineken Cup final by once more falling short when it came to last season's PRO12 showdown at their then 'home' venue at the RDS.

The defeats still cut deep for Henry – both, of course, were at the hands of Leinster – but at least his summer wasn't spent reflecting on what might have been as the 28-year-old flanker was on Ireland's – albeit Lions diluted – tour to North America.

And regardless of being around a number of presumably smug Leinster players on the tour, when it comes to 'to-do' lists he managed to pick up two more caps to take his total in the green shirt to eight since making his debut in Australia three years ago.

But that wasn't all as Henry also managed to achieve something else that he had been talking about prior to heading west again – he had also been in the States with Ireland 'A' four years ago when they won the Churchill Cup – by taking in an aerial tour of the Grand Canyon with Iain Henderson also on board for the spectacular trip.

"We did the helicopter thing and it was brilliant, I'm so glad we did it," Henry recollects.

"It was really special seeing that and what unbelievable views," he says before adding that there was also some further leisure time built-in after the tour when some of them took time out in Las Vegas.

But there is little to be gained from lingering on memories of the summer what with a new season about to kick-off and that niggling question of whether this will be Ulster's year being aired again.

"Last year is finished, the year before is finished and now it's a fresh start," he says.

"It has been very frustrating for us as players," he adds regarding the lack of reward in the trophy cabinet.

"You look around the squad we have and we don't want to be known as the men that have been close.

"We want to be the ones that win something."

Having said that, Henry (pictured with his wounds) emphasises that Ulster can harbour no expectation that a third consecutive year in a competitive final is on the cards.

"You can't be complacent in this league," insists Henry.

"I feel we are a better team compared to last year but these things (being there at the end to battle for trophies) don't just happen.

"You definitely want to win something but if we get ahead of ourselves we'll be far off it.

"The difference this year is we need to just keep focusing week to week.

"It's about what can you affect today? What can you do this afternoon? And then what can you do in the game?" he adds, giving credence to Ulster's desire to lessen the weight of expectation in the air.

Another winning start would be a useful way to see out week one.

Belfast Telegraph

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