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Chris Henry: No revenge mission for Ulster but 2015 woe can teach lessons

Sore point: Finn Russell scores against Ulster in the 2015 semi
Sore point: Finn Russell scores against Ulster in the 2015 semi
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

I couldn't bring myself to watch the 2015 PRO12 final. Living close to Kingspan Stadium, I could see the floodlights from my house, see the Munster and Glasgow fans making their way to the ground, and even hear the cheers if I opened the windows.

It was happening a mile away but I couldn't watch another team winning a trophy on our patch. Not when it was supposed to be us.

Losing that year's semi-final to Glasgow in Scotstoun, along with not playing the final at home when we topped the league two seasons prior, are probably ranked one and two when it comes to any regrets I have over my time in the Ulster jersey.

I wouldn't hold a grudge against a player, and in truth may even do the same thing in the same situation, but does the memory of Niko Matawalu milking that penalty out of Ricky Lutton still annoy me four years on?

Well, we're still sat here talking about it, so I think that answers that question.

Nine of the 23 from that horrendous evening in Glasgow are still with the Ulster squad, 10 if you include defence coach Jared Payne who was our starting centre, but to talk of a revenge mission this weekend would be wide of the mark as the team has changed so much.

But there is a pertinent lesson to be learned.

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That season, even for all the coaching changes of the previous years, we were still in the middle of a run when it seemed as if we'd have a big knockout game every season. Silverware was going to come, we just had to get over the hump.

Then, all of a sudden, almost as quickly as they'd come, they were gone. Those high-stakes contests that had become to feel like an annual event were absent at the end of a long campaign and, looking back now, that 2015 team, when we'd developed some real consistency and were, I felt, better than Glasgow in that semi-final, was the last really good chance to win a club medal in my career. I certainly didn't know it then though.

Ulster this season have already exceeded all expectations. Their run in Europe, and now making a Guinness PRO14 semi-final, is far beyond what people would have envisaged this time last year.

With that, and such a young team, there'll be a tendency to think that next year and even the year after that could bring even greater opportunities than that, but in my experience you just never know when you'll get a better chance. Or indeed when is your last chance.

Obviously the most recent trip to Glasgow is fresh in the mind but I think we will see a different Ulster to the one that was just six days detached from that heartbreaking European loss to Leinster in the Aviva.

The lineout will have to function much better than it did that day, and indeed show an improvement from Connacht last time out, and the set-piece tandem of Rory Best and Iain Henderson will likely have to produce a top-drawer performance to negate the supreme line-out nous of Jonny Gray.

It's a game where Ulster need their big players to produce on the big stage once again. The likes of Marcell Coetzee, John Cooney and Stuart McCloskey all have to hit the heights they've shown themselves to be capable of, and obviously having Jacob Stockdale back from injury would be huge, he's a player that changes the dynamic.

Glasgow are favourites but these are two similar teams in terms of style, and under Dan McFarland the province have already shown that they can upset the odds.

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