Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Ulster

Scarlets v Ulster: Chris Henry ready to power team towards top of Pro12 table

By Michael Sadlier

When the mood music needs to be upbeat then no better man to lay down the required soundtrack than Chris Henry. And with concerns rising this week over a cluster of events involving the defeat at Leinster, the opinions being voiced about things going a bit off the rails and then the spiralling injury list, the Ulster flanker is sent in to put things back in perspective.

And, true to form, he persuasively explains just how both he, and the squad, are ready to hit back.

"I only played 20 minutes last week," he says of Les Kiss's decision to bench him at the RDS.

"And I feel fresh and that's all I want to do, I want to bring energy and positivity this week.

"And whether that is talking, or whether that's just the body language that I bring onto the pitch, that is what I'm focused on," adds the massively experienced 32-year-old.

"But, for me, it's maybe not about talking as much but just making sure I deliver.

"And that is something I think the players realise, you can talk all you want but ultimately you lead by how you play."

Mind you, there is no hiding behind how the next three games - starting tonight in the PRO12 at the Scarlets and then, even more pivotally, with the final two European pool games to come - will go some way towards defining Ulster's season with another early exit from Europe on the cards.

"It will go a big way towards it," the Ireland international admits of it looking close to season-defining time.

"When we lose a game we don't go over the top and when we win a game we don't go over the top, but if we pick up the points we need over the next three weeks then it is going to shape where we want to be."

No pressure then but, as Henry points out, pressure comes with the territory whether a side is winning or losing.

Though it remains unclear whether he will be granted a contract extension beyond this season - he has only played in five games due to injury and lets it be known that he is not that happy with his current form - Henry is only interested in getting Ulster's season back on a more even-looking keel.

"This side has been in tough positions before and we've bounced back pretty quickly and that is the priority this week," he says, having accumulated quite a bit of mileage in that regard.

And Ulster will certainly have to do it the hard way to get the win they badly want as they switch from one hoodoo away venue to another.

Indeed, Parc y Scarlets has brought little joy for Ulster in recent times and they have tasted victory there just once in their last six visits and that was back in December 2012.

With only three wins away from the Kingspan this season - two of which came in September - Kiss's squad know that they have to improve on that number as they bid to stay in the hunt for an all-important PRO12 top four finish.

And though they did beat Cardiff the last time Wales was visited, last month, this trip to an in-form but, admittedly, weary - this is their third game in 11 days - and injury-hit Scarlets is still an ominously formidable one.

"If we could bottle the Glasgow performance (back in September) and replicate it every week it would be super," he admits of Ulster's best performance this season on the road.

"But you're not going to play your best rugby every week, no team does.

"It's about grinding out wins and bonus point wins," he adds, and Ulster could certainly do with more of the latter having only registered two try bonuses in 11 games though they do still have a home match in hand against bottom side Zebre.

"We definitely want to get some confidence from the Scarlets going into the following week (in Europe) and we know that Zebre at home (the yet to be rescheduled game in the PRO12) is there for us.

"We know this (the Scarlets) is not a final but we need to go over there and get a performance.

"It is probably going to be very close but we're not going to roll over.

"This is a tight squad and we are going to keep fighting.

"You either stand up and keep fighting or you just go inside yourself.

"Leinster away followed by Scarlets away is very difficult, but we have won there (at the Scarlets) before.

"So, we have to go with a positivity and keep the confidence on how we actually can play because even at Clermont, in the second half, we showed that when we get motoring we can score tries.

"We just need to be tougher on ourselves," Henry maintains.

One area where he knows that Ulster will have to be highly efficient and accurate is at the vital breakdown.

"The breakdown is going to be massive and we want to get the ball to our backs in space. If it's not quick it goes against you," he says.

"It is a big priority for us to get in before them and do a good job there."

So, message delivered, loud and clear.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph