Timing just perfect for Henry to deliver
Chris Henry’s Test debut on Saturday — against Australia in Brisbane — will be the icing on a rich personal cake for the Ulster back row forward.
The player’s own view will be that it is a bonus.
I know that to be true because when, back in September 2009, I asked him about his personal goals for the campaign which had just started his reply was: “To play well for Ulster and hopefully help us to win matches.
“If there is any personal recognition for doing that, that will be a bonus,” he added.
Bear in mind that he had featured in Ireland’s Churchill Cup triumph that summer and was, at that moment, deputising as Ulster’s captain in the absence of injured hooker Rory Best.
In those circumstances, he could have been forgiven for fancying his chances.
But Henry, 25, is admirably modest, unassuming, reliable, resolute and, as a result, highly-rated by fellow-players, coaches, pundits and supporters alike, a fact reflected in the hat-trick of titles he scooped in last month’s Ulster Rugby Awards Gala at La Mon from where he emerged with the Rugby Writers' Player of the Year plus the Personality and Supporters’ prizes.
That treble followed hard on the heels of Henry having been named in Ireland’s party for the New Zealand-Australia tour which ends this weekend.
Everything appeared to be going in his favour.
But earlier in May his father — Malone RFC doyen Willie Henry — had died and everyone who who saw the player collect his trophies that night was mindful that it was a difficult occasion for him.
Having missed the final two matches of Ulster’s season as a result of his father’s failing health, Henry was admirably stoical.
“I've had a lot of game time this year which I have enjoyed,” was his reflection of the campaign just ended. Obviously, with Rory getting injured, it was a great opportunity for me to be captain.”
And his impressively prophetic personal postscript was: “I am very happy individually with hopefully more to come.”
He did not have to wait long for that to happen; at the beginning of June he was in Ireland’s starting line-up against the Barbarians in Limerick and a fortnight later he faced New Zealand Maori.
No caps were awarded for either of those two fixtures, but Henry did enough in each of them to persuade coach Declan Kidney that he was worth a place against Australia in this weekend’s fully-fledged Test.
With Jamie Heaslip sent home having picked up a five-week ban after being dismissed in Ireland’s June 12 drubbing by the All Blacks, there was a vacancy at No 8.
Henry is the beneficiary and the timing could hardly be better, for with 2011 being a World Cup year he has come through to stake his claim at just the right moment for the Belfast man.
Meanwhile, Mike Forshaw is Connacht’s new defence coach.
The 40-year-old joins Connacht from Wigan Warriors where he has been strength and conditioning coach for the past few years.
Forshaw made his name in Rugby League, playing in the colours of Wigan Warriors, Wakefield Trinity, Bradford Bulls and Warrington Wolves, and had a spell in Union with Saracens.
Connacht’s management team for 2010/11: Director of coaching - Eric Elwood; team manager - Tim Allnutt; assistant coach - Dan McFarland; backs coach - Brian Melrose; defence coach - Mike Forshaw; video analyst - Conor McPhillips.