Chris Henry is close to Ulster Rugby return after heart scare
Chris Henry looks as if he could be making his comeback for Ulster tonight (kick-off 7.35pm and live on BBC2 NI) four months after suffering his career-threatening health scare.
It is believed the 30-year-old Ireland flanker - who suffered a mini-stroke in November and then underwent heart surgery - is the intriguing 'A.N. Other' on Ulster's bench for their must-win PRO12 clash with Cardiff Blues at the Kingspan Stadium.
A vacancy for a back row player was left on the replacements bench when the team was announced yesterday and it is hoped that this will be filled today by Henry who has been given more time by head coach Neil Doak to ascertain whether the Blues game will indeed mark his earlier than expected return to the match-day squad.
It was already known that Henry, who suffered a mini-stroke on the morning he was due to win his 17th Ireland cap against South Africa last November, was close to a return but this was thought to be more likely for Ulster's next game on April 11 against Connacht in Galway.
Kiwi flanker Sean Reidy is believed to be standing by should Henry not make the final cut.
What does seem to be rather more certain is that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding will make their already well-flagged returns tonight at out-half and inside centre respectively.
And even though only Jackson has played since both were injured at Toulon in January - and that was just 40 minutes for the Ravens last week - Doak will be hoping they can make an immediate impact in tonight's game in the push to make the play-offs.
The only other change from the Dragons reverse sees Louis Ludik at full-back with Craig Gilroy, the league's top try scorer, moving to the right wing and Rory Scholes heading benchward where Ian Humphreys now also resides.
With Roger Wilson missing again - he was banned for the Dragons match and this time is out again due to what have been described as personal reasons - this is also another opportunity for Darren Cave to skipper the second-placed side to what will hopefully be a more positive outcome than his debut in charge at the Dragons on March 8.
Wilson's continued absence might well be a concern due to his huge work-rate, but Iain Henderson's presence at flanker after the drama of last weekend's Six Nations ought to bring plenty of physicality and energy up front, though he too was part of the poor showing at Rodney Parade.
Indeed, the time for more slip-ups looks to be well and truly over. With games running out and the grappling for position in the PRO12's top four beginning to reach a state of heightened anxiety - thanks to five teams all still scrambling to make the cut - having a home fixture against a side at the other end of the table looks like a non-negotiable situation for Ulster.
Ulster's cause will certainly need improved performances from Dan Tuohy and Nick Williams while the home team's need to create quick ball for Ruan Pienaar to work with is also paramount as is the South African's winning of the place-kicking duel with points machine Rhys Patchell.
The scrums should be solid though the experience that both Matthew Rees and Adam Jones will bring to the Blues set-piece will likely pose quite a test for Rob Herring and Callum Black respectively.
Ulster will require much greater accuracy up front than last time out and defensively they know that they cannot be as passive as at the Dragons especially with Alex Cuthbert around and Gareth Anscombe running things at 10.
Even so, this ought to keep Ulster's PRO12 winning run at the Kingspan going and could also provide the ideal stage for a certain Mr Henry to make his very welcome entrance.
CIYMS are holding their popular two-day mini rugby festival this weekend with funds being raised from the event for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.