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I'll give Ulster my all, vows veteran flanker Chris Henry

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Chris Henry has said he wants to help advance the next generation of Kingspan stars after penning a two-year contract extension yesterday. The back-rower, who has been capped by Ireland on 24 occasions, made his debut for the province in 2009 and has continued his career despite suffering a mini-stroke in 2014.

Now 32, the Malone man was struck by the heart problem on the eve of Ireland's Autumn international with South Africa, but returned to action just five months later and has since broken through the 150 cap barrier for Ulster.

Popular with both team-mates and fans, Henry believes that, despite an indifferent run of form over the last three months, Director of Rugby Les Kiss is the man to guide the side towards a brighter future.

"Les is determined to build a successful future for Ulster Rugby and I want to be part of that vision," said the openside flanker.

"I believe that the squad depth is improving year-on-year, with Bryn's (Cunningham, Operations Director) ongoing retention and recruitment of players leaving us in a strong position over the next few seasons.

"We have a core group of experienced players and have a developing pathway of talented youngsters coming through.

"I want to deliver on the pitch for Ulster but I also want to ensure that I'm assisting the Academy players, who have aspirations to play professional rugby.

"The Ulster supporters are first class and there is no better feeling than playing in front of a packed house at Kingspan Stadium.

"I feel lucky to be part of a great environment and I'm delighted to commit my future."

Henry remains an important figure for the side, providing plenty of experience in a back-row unit that has looked undermanned this season as the wait for big-name signing Marcell Coetzee's debut continues in the wake of the achilles injury he suffered for his old side last April.

Kiss was full of admiration for the long-serving player yesterday, praising the work the former Wallace High pupil has put in to return from injury and illness to get back to playing top-level rugby.

"Chris has been a key player for Ulster Rugby for a number of years and he represents everything that is good about the organisation," said the Australian.

"His integrity, commitment, passion and good humour are contagious qualities that make him a fantastic person to have within our squad.

"He has been unfortunate with injuries and illness over the past couple of seasons but he has worked extremely hard to get back onto the pitch and I've no doubt that he'll be a massive asset for us over the next couple of seasons.

"The player market is becoming increasingly competitive as a result of big budgets in France and England, but I'm delighted, as I'm sure the supporters will be, that we've been able to retain Chris until at least the summer of 2019."

Meanwhile, Ulster have added prop Johnny Simpson to their Champions Cup squad ahead of Sunday's trip to Exeter (5.30pm kick-off).

The province's season-long injury problems at prop have stretched resources, with Simpson making his senior debut against Leinster on New Year's Eve.

Along with Andy Warwick, Callum Black and the recently returned Ross Kane, he was one of just four props fit for the loss to Scarlets last week and is now in line for a first European outing at Sandy Park.

He takes the squad place of Dan Tuohy, the lock who is now plying his trade for Bristol in the Aviva Premiership having left Ulster during December.

  • Exeter v Ulster, European Champions Cup: Sandy Park, Sunday, 5.30pm

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