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Flanker Henderson urges Ulster to finish with a flourish


By Jonathan Bradley

With Ulster's final trio of fixtures having loomed large ever since the Guinness PRO12 schedule was announced back in July, tonight's visit from Cardiff (7.35pm kick-off) was always likely to sneak somewhat under the radar.

While the game will have a huge bearing on whether the province hold onto their play-off spot, it has long been known that there will be sterner challenges ahead with Munster, Ospreys and Leinster still to come.

Still, you could feel the tension ramping up around the Kingspan this week as players contemplated what can be considered the beginning of the sprint to the finish.

Not one for looking beyond the most imminent of challenges, Iain Henderson was quick to point out that should Ulster's season not yield the desired top-four berth, it will not be due to results against their fellow PRO12 big guns.

"It is definitely crunch time for us now," said Henderson. "We want to finish the season all guns blazing.

"Winning the last four games is probably where we need to be at for the standard we need to win the league.

"Looking at the fixtures coming, if you lose to Cardiff that would be the most difficult defeat to take but that doesn't mean it's the hardest game.

"We have seen over the last number of years though, it's not a problem of not being able to beat a team, because we have beaten every team in the league in the last few seasons.

"It's probably come down to our own preparation and ourselves which is the most frustrating thing about it.

"It would be easier to sit here and say such and such a team is better than us, but that's not what it is because we've shown we can beat teams.

"That's where the frustration comes from."

Henderson admits that the side have sometimes struggled mentally in the past with their preparation for the less heralded fixtures on the calendar, but it's not something he has sensed in the build-up to tonight's tussle.

Having been credited as one of the players who spoke out when standards were dropping earlier in the year, the 25-year-old sees a much greater focus in the camp since returning from Six Nations duty.

"It was definitely a good thing coming back and seeing a team training well because ultimately during the week you know if a team's prepared or not prepared," he said.

"You can tell if a few balls go down or people aren't mentally switched on, you know when people aren't quite at where they should be.

"Coming back in it's been really switched on, professional and detailed."

If not willing to look beyond Cardiff this evening, it's unlikely Henderson is willing to let his thoughts drift towards the impending Lions squad announcement for the summer tour to New Zealand.

Ever since his stand-out showings at the World Cup nearly two years ago, he has been viewed as one of Ulster's most likely tourists and recovered from an injury-interrupted Six Nations to finish strongly against England.

He is not about to start dreaming of a red jersey, however, even if a few contenders going head-to-head this weekend is sure to catch Warren Gatland's eye.

"I almost cringe saying it over and over again, but if you start worrying about things like that, that's when minds aren't on training and suddenly the team hasn't prepared well," he said. "All of a sudden there's a huge knock-on effect.

"Obviously a lot of players are thinking about selection, even players thinking about selection for Ireland too.

"It's great because it gives players something to work towards rather than think of their holidays. It's good they are working towards something and have something to push for. Everyone ultimately knows that our sole aim is Ulster.

"It's been a massive, indescribable frustration the last number of years not providing silverware for the club and that's what people want to do.

"Whatever comes after that will hopefully be a sweetener on top of what we do here."

Belfast Telegraph


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