Having only turned 30 earlier this season, Ulster skipper Iain Henderson hardly qualifies as the northern province’s elder statesman yet the second-row forward knows full well on which side of the squad’s generational divide he falls.
A decade on from his debut as a shaggy-haired and galloping flanker, when he looks at the likes of James Hume, Robert Baloucoune and Mike Lowry making their mark on a team now routinely back in the sharp end of competitions, he can no doubt draw some parallels to his own career.
When he burst onto the scene he did so in a team that, after a few years of failing to challenge, had just made a Heineken Cup final and would play in the league decider a year later.
Many of the young cadre of talent at Dan McFarland’s disposal have already played in Pro14 final a year and half ago as well as European knock-outs in consecutive seasons.
And while the squad of Henderson’s earliest Ulster days ultimately never took the next step to lift a trophy, he appreciates what it would mean for the youngsters to develop a penchant for silverware so soon into their careers.
“Obviously it would be incredible to see us winning something,” he said ahead of leading the side out in next week’s URC quarter-final battle against Munster.
“A lot of that for me would be to see the younger guys winning something.
“They’ve put in so much over the last few years and, seeing them progressing, it would be great to get them into a winning habit or winning mentality.
“It would be great to get those guys who are born, frustratingly, after the millennium, to be winning stuff. To set them off at the start of their careers on a run of winning trophies would be phenomenal.”
As it would be too, naturally, for those who have been toiling away with no reward for that little bit longer.
Almost three years out of the game now, Henderson’s predecessor as skipper Rory Best was the last man in the ranks with any experience of winning a medal in a white jersey.
“For us (older) lads, it would be something that we’ve been working towards and aspiring towards for a long time,” Henderson added. “(The silverware drought is) not through lack of trying but just a run of very frustrating games, frustrating knock-out losses. It would be phenomenal, the highlight of our careers, if we were able to do something special this year.”
To do so Ulster will have to overcome Munster for a first time this season. While their potential route to the final is fearsome – likely taking in a semi-final trip to Cape Town before, presumably, having to overcome Leinster in any final – nobody in Ravenhill will be looking beyond the quarters given how home advantage counted for little when they carried a one-point lead into the second leg against Toulouse in Europe last month.
That defeat would prove doubly costly given how it seemed to carry over a week later when Munster won in Belfast.
“Our last home knock-out game, there were a couple of switch offs that cost us,” Henderson admitted. “We have to realise, at this stage of the season, that everything is on the line in a knock-out game.
“One split-second poor decision can turn the whole game around, potentially turn the whole season around. We’ve got to be planning and preparing for all those moments as best as possible.
It’s frustrating that we were still carrying that European game but we know after we put that to bed, we’re fully focused on winning this competition.
“I think we had a down-week and a training week and when guys came back in, things went really, really well. That was around the time that it came to a lot of guys’ minds that they maybe did need a bit of a break. They hadn’t realised.
“There’s a lot of big games that you have to back up in pro sport so we have to be ready. We’ve had that break, we’ve had this week as a training week, and we’re looking to be all guns firing going into the game next week.”
Meanwhile, Munster have been boosted by the return to training of several key figures ahead of their visit to Belfast.
Looking to put the experience of last week’s dispiriting showing against Leinster behind them, Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo, Damien de Allende, Craig Casey and Stephen Archer are all back on the paddock at the HPC in Limerick having missed the defeat by Leinster in the Aviva.
It is not all positive news, however. Both Andrew Conway and Jean Kleyn will have to be monitored over the next week to ascertain their availability after knee and neck injuries respectively, while Alex Kendellen is undergoing the return to play protocols.
Tadhg Beirne remains on the injured list, although there remains whispers he could be back in time for the run-in, having been absent since the Six Nations.