Belfast Telegraph

Ulster star Iain Henderson is striving to sculpt Kingspan glory against Munster

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster's Iain Henderson has laid down the gauntlet to his team-mates ahead of inter-provincial rivals Munster's visit to the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday week for what will be a seismic clash as both sides battle towards nailing a home semi-final.

The dynamic 23-year-old, who has been in hugely impressive form, is determined to bank a semi-final at the Kingspan and victory over second-placed Munster will edge Ulster ever closer towards their goal, though they are also likely to require something similar from their final regulation game at leaders Glasgow.

First, though, Henderson knows that the third-placed squad - who are a point behind Munster - will have to up their game to defend 'fortress Kingspan' in order to win all their regulation home clashes in the PRO12 this season with an 11th straight victory now an essential outcome against another inter-provincial opponent in the drive towards that top-two finish.

And Ulster's key forward, who has been playing at flanker but can also operate in the second row, also had a message for Munster as they begin to plot for next week's trip to Belfast.

"I don't think any team relishes coming here and that is one thing we are really proud of, to think that this is our fortress," the two-time Six Nations winner with Ireland said.

"We strive to keep it a fortress, and it's our goal to make this the toughest place to win for any PRO12 or European team coming here."

At the moment, Ulster have momentum with them having won six of their last seven PRO12 outings but their bid to bring a semi-final to Belfast will probably require two more wins in a challenging run-in against fellow top-two chasers.

"We knew the run-in was going to be tough," said Henderson, who scored in the 26-10 win over Leinster last Friday which secured a play-off place.

"We turned Connacht over down there, we turned Leinster over here and we have the third one to go against Munster and we can't really look past that.

"We want to get the home semi-final secured because we know we have the home final," he added of Ulster's primary focus.

Though Munster are by no means a bogey side, in the way that Leinster have largely been over recent seasons, Henderson knows that they could pose a greater threat than that brought by the weary Blues outfit.

"Munster are a big front-up side, they are very forward orientated and also have very sharp backs," he stated.

"We need to dominate them up front and as we've seen earlier in the season if we don't dominate up front we can't get the front-foot ball we need to show what we can do."

Indeed, Henderson, along with fellow key forwards Chris Henry and skipper Rory Best, will have to be in the faces of a Munster pack likely to contain Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony and if ever there was a game when a bonus-point win was needed then this is it.

But Ulster's chief concern will be just to win the game and considerably up their performance from the rare defeat of Leinster.

Though fresh physically, after only playing his first game of the season last January following hip surgery, Henderson knows there is considerable scope for improvement for both himself and the team.

"You can't sit on your laurels," he insists. "We'll be very critical of our performance (against Leinster) and everyone will have their work-ons of what they want to get right for next week."

Ireland U20s have selected six Ulster-based players in their 28-man squad for June's World Championships in Italy. Sam Arnold, Lorcan Dow, Zack McCall, Jack Owens, Jacob Stockdale and Alex Thompson have all made the cut.

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