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Rea and Patterson staking a big claim, says Henry

 

By Jonathan Bradley

It may have only been pre-season, but Ulster's Chris Henry cut a frustrated figure after the province lost their first game under a new coaching ticket against Wasps on Thursday night.

While Director of Rugby Les Kiss is still in place, and set to enter his third season at Kingspan Stadium, three new coaches have been recruited below him ahead of the new campaign, which kicks off against the Toyota Cheetahs on September 1.

Former Leinster and Clermont assistant Jono Gibbes has been brought in as head coach, replacing the long-serving Neil Doak, with 2005 Lion Dwayne Peel being put in charge of the backline and Aaron Dundon the scrum.

And while the 25-16 loss to last season's beaten Premiership finalists showed signs of a team still trying to bed in new ideas, Henry has enjoyed working with the new trio over the course of the summer.

"It was disappointing not to get them the start they deserved (a win on Thursday) but that is on the players," he said.

"I think the team were really prepared to play the match. Obviously the new combinations, new faces, new coaches and simple things in the way we are warming up now, it is going to take a wee bit of time I guess.

"We were very hot and cold, but I think the majority of us are all very positive. When we assess the match we have to stay positive, stay close and tight as a group because we know we are going to get better.

"The first game is always rusty, you can go through your pre-season for six weeks and then you come back, but it is still going to be a shock. Unfortunately we did not respond as well as Wasps.

"We could not have been more prepared for it by the coaches, they have brought a lot of new stuff in. The training sessions, when you come in, you have to be switched on.

"They demand a lot from you and they are getting the best out of us in training, and that without a doubt will bring the best out of us in matches.

"Every aspect they are bringing individually has been fantastic, and I think we have a great team in place to keep us going in the right direction."

While the result did not go Ulster's way in their first hit-out, and there was certainly too much rust for Kiss' liking, there were some positive performances from the younger members of the side.

Callum Patterson, the cousin of Northern Ireland's football captain Steve Davis, grabbed another try after doing likewise against the Barbarians back in June, while back-rowers Nick Timoney and Matty Rea also impressed.

Packing down alongside the latter pair in the same loose forward unit, Henry had only positive words for the duo.

"That was one of the stand outs," said the man who captained the side on Thursday, although Ulster refused to confirm whether he would carry the armband into the season.

"Matty Rea and Nick Timoney were awesome. They have trained unbelievably hard all pre-season, they have impressed and they got a chance. Now there are a few more headaches for Les.

"It is really competitive (in the back row). I think when you look at our squad, in every position, there is serious depth and probably at the moment the injury count is in our favour.

"That can change quickly, but the young players are doing really well stepping up."

Ulster travel to Northampton on Friday for their final tune up of pre-season.

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