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Ulster Rugby must channel hurt to revive title charge: Chris Henry

By Michael Sadlier

He knew last Saturday would bring it all back again, but Chris Henry still found himself sitting down to watch Saracens take on Clermont in their Heineken Cup semi-final which, but for rather better fortune, might have actually been Ulster hosting the French at a raucously partisan Lansdowne Road.

Even though Henry and his team-mates would have been taking their crippling injury profile into last weekend, had they actually got the better of Mark McCall's side back in that epic game at the start of the month, the feeling is still inescapable that they would have backed themselves to do a job on Clermont and reach the final for the second time in three seasons.

Reflecting on what might have been and then witnessing the 46-6 annihilation dished out by a rampant Sarries side on the French, at a less than atmospheric Twickenham, just made it all the harder to stomach even a month on from Ulster's dramatic quarter-final exit.

"I found it very tough (to watch)," Henry admitted.

"And some of the lads had to turn it off as they just couldn't watch it," he added.

Up to that point, last week had been pretty good as Mark Anscombe had taken the squad away for three days of training and relaxation at Ireland's base at Carton House in Co Kildare.

"It was good to freshen everyone up," states Henry about a programme which included golf, archery and off-road driving alongside some of the usual work done in training.

And before he gets back on message to address Ulster's rather perilous looking PRO12 top four hopes, there is more of the hurt from Saracens to be talked out and just how Henry and co urgently need to channel something positive from that bad experience, and the low point they felt last time out in the PRO12 defeat at Glasgow two weeks ago, into tomorrow night's unavoidably must-win meeting with league leaders and current title holders Leinster.

"It's do or die time now," he acknowledges. "The pressure is on us now, but I think the Saracens game showed the character of this team as we were still in with a shout of winning it despite being down to 14 players," says the flanker who played such a prominent role in assisting Ireland on their way to the Six Nations title.

"It's always nice at this stage of the season to have a few points to cushion things (the top four place) but we don't have that and we're fighting for our lives at the moment," he candidly states.

"The frustrating thing is that we went into Saracens with such a clean bill of health," the 29-year-old says of Ulster's notably lengthy list of walking wounded.

"We can use that as an excuse but we've got to get some excitement back (into our performances) because we're on the limit, on the line of being out of it (the PRO12) and yet we've still got a chance of winning the whole thing."

Though the table currently makes uncomfortable viewing for Ulster – they are in fourth and only five in front of the Ospreys, who play at bottom side Zebre tonight – there is also the fiendish looking run-in to contend with as a trip to Thomond Park awaits after tomorrow night's encounter with Leinster.

Just to add to the urgency of the situation, Ulster are five points – a bonus point win – away from securing their top four position while having to play a pair of interprovincial rivals who are battling for home semi-finals by finishing in the top two.

So, with third-placed Munster away to follow for Anscombe's men after tomorrow night's joust with Leinster – likely to be Ulster's last home game this season – the incline could hardly be steeper.

"It's frustrating because we under-performed against Glasgow," Henry admits, though clearly still unhappy at elements of that evening's refereeing.

"Big players now need to stand up and I haven't been happy with my performances and hopefully I'll do the things I need to do this week," said Henry, who had to fill in on the blindside flank in Glasgow and may be doing so again.

"They're a bit of a bogey team for us," he adds with Ulster having lost out to Leinster at showdown encounters like last year's PRO12 final – rendering irrelevant their two regulation PRO12 victories over them during the course of that season – the Heineken Cup final the year before and then at the PRO12 semi-final stages in 2011.

"They know us and we know them," says Henry, who didn't play in last December's league reverse at the RDS.

"They are the best team around. They are consistently good and look at their strength in depth, no matter what team they field week to week.

"But if ever there was a week when we need to bring our best games it has to be now," Henry adds while also pointing out that he feels under pressure to perform for his place on Joe Schmidt's touring party to Argentina this summer.

"We need a win," he says of tomorrow night's basic requirement.

"We're not relying on other results. The whole focus is getting a win," stresses Henry, who also alludes to delivering something in what looks certain to be the last time Johann Muller is seen at Ravenhill.

Just making the play-offs is now the priority. And to think that it's all come to this.

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