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Glasgow v Ulster: Iain Henderson aiming to end the Glasgow hoodoo

Province have never won a PRO12 game at the Warriors' Scotstoun home but Henderson says the squad will travel full of confidence

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 23/09/2016

In the hotseat: Ulster’s Iain Henderson at Kingspan Stadium ahead of tonight’s big showdown against Glasgow at Scotstoun
In the hotseat: Ulster’s Iain Henderson at Kingspan Stadium ahead of tonight’s big showdown against Glasgow at Scotstoun

After five losses in a row when visiting Glasgow, Iain Henderson is one of only a handful of Ulster players who know what it takes to win in Scotstoun Stadium.

The flanker was only just breaking through into the senior panel in 2012 when the province played at the venue for the first time and enjoyed a Heineken Cup triumph on their way to the quarter-finals.

Since then it has been an unhappy hunting ground and Ulster have lost every league game they've played at the stadium, which this season will make use of an artificial surface.

"In my first season we played them in the European Cup and beat them," he recalled.

"That's my first memory of Glasgow. There's quite a large student contingent over there from here so I had quite a few friends at the game and it holds good memories in that sense.

"But we're well aware that over the last few seasons Scotstoun hasn't been our favourite ground for doing well in."

Their record at the stadium is perhaps all the more galling given that they have found themselves in winning positions on more than one occasion only to let the advantage slip.

Most famously they led late on in the 2015 PRO12 semi-final, with a Kingspan final on the line, and allowed their hosts to steal victory, but they were also on the receiving end of a Glasgow comeback in the corresponding fixture last term.

"It's frustrating playing against Glasgow because they're such a good side, and not just for the first half or 60 minutes, they play right until the end," lamented Henderson.

"In the past number of seasons they have had a great offloading game, they try to flood the channels and counter-attack.

"Obviously Stuart Hogg's kicking game can be a real problem for sides so we have to be smart there too in closing him down and having backs cover.

"Around the 60 minute mark if Glasgow are behind they end the game stronger. They've shown in the past they're more than happy to wait and then take the game once the other team switches off.

"Like against Leinster (two weeks ago), they had that two-try turnaround within a matter of minutes and before you know it the team that were ahead have no idea what's going on and Glasgow have just lifted up another gear. We need to stay on top of that and be aware of that."

Having to date played three teams who have combined for only one PRO12 win, this evening's trip has the feel of Ulster's first real test this season, but Henderson says the province will travel without feeling the weight of recent history on their shoulders.

"We'll go across there knowing we have a world-class side and players coming back in who haven't played for us yet," he said. "They will look forward to trying to leave their mark with Ulster this season.

"We're on a run of three wins, looking to make it four, and that's definitely what we're hoping to do. I don't see any reason why we should be going over there expecting to come out second best."

While time is already short before Europe, and indeed the autumn internationals, Henderson sees these early weeks as key to Ulster's hopes of silverware come May.

"We talked about it at the end of last year, that it was the start of our season last time, those pre-Christmas games, where we didn't take the full benefit of everything we could there," he said.

"We lost a few games we were disappointed to lose and it put a lot of pressure on us in the back end of the season.

"I think we're definitely looking forward towards the far end of the season and saying 'look, we need to get as much as we can now to make it easier for ourselves in the future'.

"Hopefully we can make the business end of the season a lot easier for ourselves come next April and next May."

This evening's encounter marks a first start for Henderson since Ireland's summer tour to South Africa in June after he made a try-scoring cameo off the bench against Scarlets last week.

While in past years, often when coming back from injury, the 24-year-old has said he feels it takes a couple of outings to reach full speed, this season he believes he can hit the ground running.

"In the past I would have said that," he admitted.

"Coming off the bench I did find myself blowing a bit, but I think a lot of people would say for their first game you feel like you're running a fair bit.

"I felt there were a lot of improvements to my game that could be made, and I've looked back at (the Scarlets game) and reviewed it, and know where I can get better. Hopefully this week I can back up the 40 minutes I've got behind me and get back to full fitness."

Bradley’s Verdict

With Irish internationals Jared Payne and Rory Best returning, Ulster travel to Glasgow with a strong panel, but to a ground where they have few happy memories. A losing bonus point in their first big test, a feat they haven’t managed at Scotstoun since 2013, would likely represent a satisfactory return for Les Kiss’s side.

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