Belfast Telegraph

Newport Gwent Dragons v Ulster: Chris Henry excited to throw himself back into duty

By Jonathan Bradley

As he attempted to process the abrupt end of his first World Cup, Chris Henry didn't even take the time to drop his bags home before jetting off again.

A week spent in Dubai - he headed to the UAE straight after Ireland's return journey to Dublin - helped ease the pain of the quarter-final defeat to Argentina but the memory of fighting that losing battle against the Pumas lingered in the mind.

Henry, who remarkably recovered from a mini-stroke last November to claim a place in the squad, would have taken solace from his impressive individual showings in England and Wales but ultimately he knew that only rugby could fully cleanse the palate.

Mind cleared and itching to get back into action, the 31-year-old returned for Ulster off the bench against Munster last week but will be restored to his familiar No.7 jersey when Ulster meet the Dragons in Newport tomorrow.

After months spent in the intense environment of Joe Schmidt's Ireland camp, Henry feels he has returned an improved player to boost Ulster's PRO12 campaign.

"I would like to think I've come back from the World Cup a better player," he said.

"It was an amazing experience. Obviously there was the ultimate low and anyone involved is still going to take a wee while to recover.

"Any time there is a campaign like the Six Nations, and particularly after my first World Cup, learning new calls again can be a difficult adjustment.

"When you have been engrossed in something for the guts of four months and then to return to this environment where Ulster have their own systems and calling structures, that's the thing you have to pick up the quickest.

"On the other side, for the lads that were involved in a World Cup campaign and the way it finished, it is the best thing for us to get back and get involved in the Ulster environment as quick as possible.

"I was lucky I had a break, and got back last week and it was such a good thing for me. Rory Best got an extra week off and I know he is really excited to get stuck back into things this week.

"It's something that's going to take a bit of time but the best thing to do is throw yourself into something new. The World Cup is done and dusted and there's a lot of rugby still to play."

Tomorrow's game is a first for Les Kiss since his return to Kingspan Stadium; the new Director of Rugby, who served on a temporary basis last season after the sudden departure of David Humphreys, took up his post permanently on Monday.

"These are exciting times," Henry enthused.

"Obviously he has been with us before for a short stint, but to have Les here now and properly involved is great. He has been hands-on this week and he has a clear message on how he wants things to run and I know anyone who has been lucky enough to be coached by him already knows what he is going to bring to this team.

"With the man at the top leading the charge and having real direction, that can only be a really positive thing for us.

"It's good to have that sense of clarity. We've unbelievable coaches here already.

"It's not going to change massively the way we are going to play the game, but just to have someone to take a load off the likes of Doakie (head coach Neil Doak) will be great.

"He has the experience of being involved with teams who have won big tournaments with big teams. He's coached with world class coaches.

"He's a great guy and you can see the excitement this week.

"Hopefully the players will respond. Usually any time a new coach comes in there is a great response, so hopefully it will help this week at the Dragons as Les is a coach you really want to play for and as players we have to get right behind him."

The Dragons have won both their games at Rodney Parade this season, admittedly against perennial basement dwellers Treviso and Zebre, while Ulster's struggles beyond BT6 are well documented.

The team have not won away since April, including three reverses already this campaign, and Henry is expecting another battle in south-east Wales.

"Dragons have had a similar run of form to us; their defence is particularly strong, they make teams work really hard, put them under pressure and frustrate players," noted Henry.

"They tackle and bounce out of rucks and are a solid line constantly. We will have to come up with a few ideas to get through their line of defence but away from home and in a place like Rodney Parade you are talking about set-piece, maul, defence and not giving away penalties.

"(Taulupe) Faletau is obviously one of their danger men, so we need to start well. I think most of these games come down to the breakdown and I think that was something that was better for us last weekend.

"I think if we can get that right, and our game picks up, we can give any team a rattle away from home."

Having finally managed that last week, now only an all-important first away win will do.

Belfast Telegraph


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