Belfast Telegraph

Fired-up Henry is all set to pull his weight

Returning ace eager to drive Ulster's play-off bid

By Jonathan Bradley

Lungs bursting and legs aching, Chris Henry had to dig deeper again to find something extra but this wasn't for that final drive to the line - rather to make the last set of stairs.

And, no, this had nothing to do with the mini-stroke which took out so much of the previous season for the 31-year-old. This was all about having to deal with a fiendish piece of kit called a weighted vest.

Being sidelined twice this season by a troublesome shoulder - Henry's first involvement since early January saw him manage 20 minutes off the bench last week against Glasgow - led to a whole heap more difficulty for the flanker courtesy of said vest.

So, if you reckon that being unable to play is mostly all about rest and recovery, then think again.

The vest looks like a flak jacket and it weighs 40kg which is all fine until you have to put it on and perform a series of lung and leg-destroying tasks.

And this is what Henry recently found himself doing to both maintain and, indeed, increase fitness. That he still winces at the memory is hardly surprising.

"It's a nightmare, it's an item of torture," he said without obvious embellishment.

"JD and Kev (the strength and conditioning team of Jonny Davis and Kevin Geary) come up with new torture ideas to wreck us and that's the newest one."

And so to the task at hand as with 40kg vest on, Henry, and any other unfortunates on the path to recovery, would be sent on a route designed to put him through maximum pain for the same gain.

With the stadium's steps nearby - the Aquinas stand being very close to hand - it was only natural that the flanker got up close and personal with them.

"We ran from the bottom of the gym the whole way up to the top of the stadium so that's loads of stairs and back down again," Henry explained, no doubt hoping that this experience is now well and truly behind him

"That's one rep and you do 10 of them and after that, well, you're just wrecked. This is their new torture treatment to keep us in line."

Still, all the hard and painful work has, he reckons, stood to him as he starts when Ulster host fellow play-off hopefuls Scarlets tomorrow with just seven regulation season games to go when referee Ian Davies blows for full-time.

"I've essentially been doing a pre-season and I've been running up and down stairs and also pulling big sleds so I feel reasonably fit and the strength has come back in the shoulder," said the player due to make his 142nd appearance for Ulster tomorrow, though this will only be his 10th game for the province this season.

It's been deeply frustrating not playing in a white shirt and then along came the Six Nations squad announcement which placed him in a form of limbo as being named as someone who might get a look in later on, depending on how his recovery and game-time work out.

Now that the shoulder is feeling right and Henry is playing again, there is already an air of expectation that he will not only bring something else to the province's drive to make the play-offs but possibly also feature in Joe Schmidt's thoughts now that Sean O'Brien's championship is over.

"I haven't played anywhere near enough," 24-times capped Henry said when the Ireland issue was raised. "If I get back and play well and Joe wants me back then that would be amazing.

"If I get down to help and contribute in a training week then that would also be amazing but I need to get playing and contributing in a white jersey."

Henry, who had a key role in 2014's Six Nations title win and who last featured in green at the World Cup, admits that he rushed himself back after damaging his shoulder early in December's European win over Toulouse at the Kingspan and it has certainly cost him in terms of missing key games and not being inked in for the Six Nations.

"It's so frustrating being out. I want to get that game-time and get my rhythm back and contribute as best I can because when they're (Ulster) winning without you, you'd be lying if you didn't admit to wanting to get straight back out there as quickly as possible," Henry added while rightly name-checking Sean Reidy as playing notably well in his place.

"As a No.7 you need to be battle-hardened, you need to be playing week on week to get the best out of you as you're in contact so much."

Now, though, it's about getting back out there to feel the strain from actually helping to propel Ulster forward towards nailing nail down a fifth PRO12 semi-final in six years and preferably a home one at that.

"We've targeted this run of games to get as many points as possible to put us in a healthy place," he added.

Right where he wants to be then, in the front line but without a weighted vest in sight.

Ulster's opponents tomorrow have found themselves in a bit of bother with the organisers of the European Champions Cup and have been handed down a suspended fine of €10,000 (approx £7,700) after naming an ineligible player in a match day squad.

The player involved was Jacob Cowley - who will play at the Kindpan for the Scarlets and is the son of Kiwi veteran Regan King - who was an unused sub for their Champions Cup game at Racing 92 in January.

The independent Disciplinary Committee accepted that Cowley was named in error by the Scarlets in a match which Racing 92 won 64-14 but, nevertheless, the club were deemed to have breached the tournament rules.

The West Wales club's suspended fine will only have to paid if they find themselves in breach of any further European tournament regulations from now until May 31, 2018.

Last night's Pro12 results: Benetton Treviso 19 NG Dragons 17; Ospreys 27 Edinburgh 13; Glasgow 27 Munster 24

Today's fixtures: Cardiff Blues v Leinster (3pm); Zebre v Connacht (4.30pm).

Injuries and Welsh call-ups have deprived Scarlets of much of their early season momentum. Les Kiss' (right) men should secure a fourth PRO12 win on the spin.

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