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Henry Speight is keen to sign off Ulster duty on high

 

Handing off: Henry Speight, pictured at Kingspan yesterday, will head back to Australia, impressed by Jacob Stockdale
Handing off: Henry Speight, pictured at Kingspan yesterday, will head back to Australia, impressed by Jacob Stockdale
Jacob Stockdale

By Michael Sadlier

The weather gets a fair few mentions as Henry Speight prepares to take his leave.

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It's a fair enough call as this time of year has not always been known for its mild conditions, and especially so in Galway, but, then again, bringing it up helps partially disguise the 30-year-old's emotion at departing as his short-term deal here draws to a close with the Brumbies' pre-season beckoning.

"I don't know too much," said Speight of heading west to the Sportsground. "Just that a few weeks ago (when Connacht defeated Perpignan) it was bloody horrible down there.

"And in referencing the weather from three weekends ago, that's even coming from the Connacht boys."

But, looking at the overall experience at Ulster, the Fijian-born Australia international keeps the weather on the agenda even though being here has clearly been a significant experience both professionally and personally.

"Firstly, the emphasis on how to play in the cold," was Speight's take on what he has absorbed from working in the northern hemisphere.

"And finding ways to win when certain conditions level out the playing field. It's in those conditions when you really learn a lot.

"The will to fight for every little inch and for as long as it takes, whether it's 80 or 85 minutes like we did in Wales (at the Scarlets), is something that I've really learned."

He and partner Louise fly back to Australia on Sunday, after arriving here in a rather more balmy August, and both have found the Ulster experience thoroughly rewarding, with their departure now being far more of a wrench than they had imagined would be the case.

"Off the field it's an amazing place to be and the people are very hospitable and kind and accepting. We can't thank everyone enough," said the softly-spoken Speight, who played his last home game for Ulster in last week's win over Munster.

Tonight will be the 12th and final time he wears the Ulster shirt and, though he would like to add to his three tries and sign off with another solid performance, he just hopes that his time here will have been of some benefit to the squad.

"The team, it is just a big brotherhood and it will be really hard to take the jersey off," he said.

And reflecting on how he may be viewed by his soon to be former team-mates, the winger explained that he is hopeful they will reckon he made some form of contribution.

"I hope they (his Ulster team-mates) can see a good team man and good person who offered to help out or give a hand in the gym, or at training, or with footage," he said.

"Someone who helped bring along some of the young boys, especially in the outside backs - the likes of Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, Angus Kernohan and Rob Lyttle. I had a lot of time with them.

"But their passion and drive drove me as well. I learned a lot from them and I hope they took something from me.

"If they did, I'd be very humbled and happy."

He also mentions Jacob Stockdale and his phenomenal ability to score tries. Not surprisingly, Speight rates him highly.

"I think there is no ceiling to his capabilities at the moment," he explained.

"He has a very good head on him and he is never shy of looking to improve at training.

"That's something I have personally seen, but also the quality of him as a person and he shows on the field that he is an even better player.

"It has been an absolute pleasure to be on the same field as him."

The emotion was clear as he bowed out for the last time at Kingspan Stadium last Friday night, the inescapable notion of a deeper connection having been made between Speight and the province making it all the harder to now leave his adopted province.

He recalled the aftermath of the Munster win but, typically, without taking in how he felt, rather the happiness that was on show from both the team and the supporters.

"Obviously (seeing) just everyone in the changing room, I think that was the most special bit," stated Speight.

"Second to that is just seeing our supporters happy."

Speight reckons that the camaraderie within the squad has, in the short time he has been here, been special and that it will propel Ulster forward to, hopefully, notable achievement.

"Whatever 23 guys are involved they push the team on and they have been exceptional in the past month," he said.

"We have seen the filtering through of young boys like Eric O'Sullivan, who put in a big shift in Wales against the Scarlets, a full 80 for a prop is unheard of these days but there is a faith and confidence in those players coming through."

It's not easy to stay entirely focused on tonight's last game with that departing flight now so close, but he is at least contented to be leaving a side in decent form.

"It makes it a lot harder (to leave) with the way the results have been going. With that it always creates a good vibe, the boys are happy and the whole province is happy," he said.

A winning farewell, against a Connacht side containing personnel Speight knows from Australia, would be ideal.

As would a break from playing, though he's not exactly sure what that will entail as six days after arriving back in Australia - he touches down on New Year's Day - Speight is expected to report at pre-season training with the Brumbies.

"I think it's two weeks of pre-season (training) and a pre-season game after that before the season proper rocks in," he added. "No rest for the wicked."

True, but thanks for being here Henry.

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