RaboDirect Pro12: It’s time for Ulster to deliver
Chris Henry has been through enough dark days with Ulster to know that the current run — defeat in six of their past eight matches — is one from which they will emerge.
But while the back row forward insists there is no panic, he is honest enough to admit that if they are to be taken seriously when they talk about a top four finish, Ulster can ill-afford another loss tonight.
“There’s no hiding from the table. When you look at the table at the minute we’re definitely not where we want to be, though I think we’re fortunate because other teams have lost games, too,” he says.
“We’re not in dire straits yet but it’s definitely time for us to dig deep and realise that ‘right, we’ve got to start racking up some points’.
“It’s not crisis mode yet, but we need to start winning these games.”
Ulster’s recent results have been in stark contrast to those of tonight’s Ravenhill opponents. Scarlets, in the past two months, have been excellent; their last defeat was on October 1 in Italy where Benetton Treviso beat them 20-10 in the RaboDirect Pro12.
Since then they have played eight matches in three different competitions, winning seven and drawing the other. Their victims include Northampton Saints whom they beat 28-23 when they clashed in the Heineken Cup at Franklin’s Gardens. A week earlier they had taken Castres Olympique’s scalp in the same competition, winning 31-23 at Parc y Scarlets.
In the LV Cup they trounced Leicester Tigers 31-3 in Llanelli, before subjecting Cardiff to a 30-3 drubbing in the Welsh capital. Hugely impressive scorelines which have earned Henry’s admiration.
“We respect the Scarlets massively, the way they play. They’ve won some brilliant games and put in some awesome performances so we know this is a huge one,” he says.
But there the plaudits end; tonight Ulster are at home and they are hungry. There is much at stake and following a number of defeats and disappointing displays a lot to be proved, Henry feels.
“We know that if we play to our best we can beat any team. We showed that against Clermont,” he reasons. “When we are firing well we’re a very, very difficult side to beat so it’s just about sticking to that process.
“Myself and the other players are excited to be back at Ravenhill — I think the home advantage couldn’t come at a better time for us.”
As for where Ulster can beat tonight’s on-fire Welsh opponents he suggests: “We’re at our best whenever we create phases, our forwards are running into space and our backs are running into opposition forwards.
“That’s when we cause mis-matches, but that doesn’t come without a lot of hard work and moving teams around the park which is something we haven’t been able to do.”
Tonight the 27-year-old — now considered to be one of Ulster’s senior players — wins his 71st cap for the province.
At the other end of the scale, 20-year-old winger Craig Gilroy (below) wins his 25th. Last season he couldn’t stop scoring tries. This, his second, has been somewhat less productive.
As one who would benefit enormously from the backs-running-at-forwards scenario Henry describes, Gilroy has a vested interest in seeing that come to pass this evening.
“It’s a bit different to last season,” he agrees. “Personally I’m happy with the amount of game time and opportunities I’ve been getting, but obviously a few games haven’t gone our way and we need to get back to winning ways.
“I think we really need to focus on the basics, taking it through phases and just doing the simple things instead of over-complicating it with big passes. Just maybe take it through the hands — like I say, back to basics.”
But there is no need to panic, he insists.
“We just try to deal with what is going on as best we can. Analyse everything and when we get onto the paddock sort it out. We did a lot of that at Jordanstown on Tuesday and we had a really good session,” he points out.
Gilroy admits that the mood in the dressing room after the sort of defeats Ulster have been suffering is one of real frustration.
“It’s gutting to come off with a loss after the work we’ve put in preparing for it. That’s really frustrating,” he reveals.
Having been rested last week he had a chance to watch Ulster’s Firhill game against Glasgow on television.
“You see the errors more clearly when you’re watching it on TV rather than playing,” he says.
Now, having seen where Ulster went wrong a week ago, he is aiming to play his part in a significantly improved performance tonight.