Belfast Telegraph

Pro 12: Ulster go into Dragons' den

By Niall Crozier

Having to play two RaboDirect Pro 12 games in the space of six days is a tough schedule - particularly when both entail travel to and from south Wales.

But with Ulster having lost 32-14 to Ospreys on Sunday - a result which spelt the end of their three-match winning run at the outset of the series - they now require a positive response.

Tonight, they enter the Dragons' den in Newport, 130 miles from the scene of last weekend's indisciplined, error-strewn Liberty Stadium outing.

Captain Chris Henry knows the importance of moving on from that; you lose a match, you feel deflated, but you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get back to work.

Whilst professional sport pays its exponents well, it demands a lot in return. One of the demands is mental strength to balance the physical side of the equation.

Tonight Henry hopes to see Ulster's war-hardened troops lead the side's younger members by example.

"I think the older guys know from experience that these things happen," he reasons. "We've been through it and we know it isn't very nice. No, we didn't play well on Sunday and we lost to Ospreys.

"But it's not the end of the world. It's done and we move on. And the short turn-around means we have a chance to bounce back straight away, so that's a positive.

"There isn't too much training in a short week like this; most of the work is done mentally so that we're in the right frame of mind," he reveals.

Leading by example goes with the territory of captaincy, albeit that he is a stand-in skipper who found himself promoted to that position when South Africa summoned Johann Muller for World Cup duty. The irony is that the big Springbok was to have deputised for Rory Best who is in New Zealand with Ireland.

But Ulster know, from experience, just how reliable Henry is. Last season, the first half of which Best missed following summer 2010 surgery on a neck injury, Henry was the man to whom they turned.

The flanker, who turns 27 on October 17, knows what is needed at this stage - composure, calm and commonsense. He needs the youngsters to know that while losing is painful, it isn't fatal.

"Look at the age of the back line we had out against Ospreys. They're great young players and that will have been hard for them.

"Okay, we've had our first loss and it was always going to happen. We were never going to go through the season unbeaten. It's done now, so let's put that to bed and move on to the next challenge," he says.

He is a positive young man, an aspect of his engaging personality he underlines by adding: "There is no reason why we can't get back on track. We have two games before the two-week break and we're dead set on getting two wins."

Ulster's line-up sees three changes in personnel plus a positional switch to the side beaten by Ospreys.

Full-back Jared Payne's dead leg has not recovered sufficiently for him to be deemed fit which means Adam D'Arcy steps up from the bench.

Hooker Andi Kyriacou moves in the opposite direction, joining the replacements, with Nigel Brady finally getting his first start of the 2011/12 RaboDirect Pro12 series.

Robbie Diack - last week's No 8 - also drops to the bench, withHenry taking his place and Willie Faloon filling the resultant openside vacancy.

Last week saw teenage scrum-half Blaine McIlroy - who partnered stand-off Jackson in their time at Methodist College - make his bow when he joined the Liberty Stadium fray late on. And now another Academy starlet - prop Kyle McCall who, like McIlroy, is 19 - is hoping that he will be called upon to make his senior debut tonight.

With Ian Porter having recovered from the rib injury which saw him excluded last week, he returns to the bench at the expense of the unfortunate McIlroy.

Belfast Telegraph


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