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Let's hit the big time for Ulster skipper Rory Best: Henderson

By Jonathan Bradley

Iain Henderson and many of his Ulster team-mates may have youth on their side but the star flanker says there is still a sense of urgency among the squad when it comes to winning silverware.

In the past five seasons the province has fallen short in two finals and a trio of last four clashes as their trophy drought inches ever closer to a complete decade.

Only four members of the 2006 Celtic League-winning squad remain - Rory Best, Roger Wilson, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble - with Henderson saying he, and the rest of the squad with dates of birth in the 1990s, feel a weight of responsibility to ensure that quartet don't end their Ulster careers with only a solitary medal to show for it.

Les Kiss' men meet Leinster at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday with a win vital to their hopes of securing a place in the Pro12 play-offs and Henderson will have his captain Best in mind when he lines out for the crucial interpro.

"It would mean the most to win it for Rory," said the Irish international.

"He has been plugging away at this club for so long and I think we owe it to him to push the whole team through.

"It has been a long season for everyone but it would be unacceptable for us to let it go to waste and not get to the playoffs and (then) the final.

"The likes of Rory, Roger, and even Tommy and Andrew Trimble, are getting up there now and those boys have only one piece of silverware.

"We'd like to add more to the cabinet and give them a good send-off to the end of their careers."

While acknowledging that retirement is hardly imminent for even the squad's more senior home-grown stars, Henderson is refusing to tolerate any 'wait till next year' mentality, saying that the only way to show lessons have been learnt from the near-misses of the past is to finally deliver a long-awaited trophy.

"You can say time and time again that we have learned from last year but you can't put it into words until you actually do it on the pitch.

"People say action is louder than words. I can say whatever I want and then we go out and lose but personally it means a lot more to me this season playing for the older players, the ones who don't have too many seasons left."

The bid to do so this year could, however, end almost before it begins should the side fall to their most familiar of foes this weekend.

Sitting fourth in the table with two games remaining - they travel to Ospreys in the season's final weekend - Ulster must stay there if they are to be in the play-off shake-up next month but have won just one of their last seven meetings with the men from D4 who provided season-ending defeats for four straight seasons between 2011 and 2014.

With home advantage on their side, and the memory of a comfortable victory in Belfast 12 months ago still fresh, the 24-year-old is ready to take on all comers.

"Every team we play, we fully expect to win and it should be no different with Leinster," says the former Queen's man bullishly.

While a fully-firing Leinster will be a different proposition to an under-manned Connacht or struggling Zebre, there have been signs in recent weeks that Ulster are rediscovering something of a groove following a disappointing Six Nations period but their cause will be hampered by injuries in the season's final weeks.

Tommy Bowe misses out on Saturday, while forwards Nick Williams and Alan O'Connor will play no further part in the campaign, but Henderson is not willing to use absentees as an excuse.

"We know when it comes to this end of the season we have to put our bodies on the line to make sure we get the win.

"We've plenty of experienced players who know how to beat a team like Leinster and have beaten a team like Leinster."

The very same experienced players Henderson is so determined to see rewarded with a Pro12 title one month from now.



Guinness Pro12 League:

Kingspan Stadium, Saturday, 3pm

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