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Rugby World Cup: Chris Henry goes from heart surgery to a World Cup hero

By Steven Beacom

Ten months ago Chris Henry was lying in a hospital bed having gone through heart surgery. Yesterday he was playing and scoring for Ireland at one of sport's most iconic venues in front of the biggest crowd ever to watch a Rugby World Cup match.

Henry's story may only be a sub-plot in Ireland's quest for glory in the 2015 tournament, but it is one worth telling again and again.

It is an inspirational tale of one man's desire to overcome the most challenging of circumstances to fulfil his dream and all the more heartwarming because, well, Chris is such a nice guy.

He really is. The Ulster back row star has a warm and welcoming personality to go with his ability on a rugby pitch, which was clear for 89,267 spectators to see at Wembley as Ireland defeated a gutsy Romania side 44-10 to make it two wins out of two in Pool D.

Henry has played in both victories...he relished 17 minutes as a substitute in last weekend's success over Canada and revelled in his first World Cup start yesterday, impressing for the full 80.

The former Wallace High School pupil showed drive and determination all over the Wembley turf. He was quick to the breakdown, imposing himself on the opposition, and sharp in the loose too, helping Joe Schmidt's side gain territory with numerous carries.

Crossing for a late try, wearing a blood stained old style do it yourself head band, was no more than he deserved.

Whether Henry's excellent contribution is enough to earn a spot in the first XV for the next game with Italy or the crunch group fixture against France on Sunday week remains to be seen, but if yesterday was anything to go by the 30-year-old will be ready to step up when the bigger Tests come around.

Henry's form is a testament to his character, given what he has come through to get to this point in his career and life.

It was in November last year that Henry was withdrawn from the Ireland side to play South Africa in Dublin. The official line at the time for his absence was 'illness'.

Later it was revealed that Chris had suffered a blocked blood vessel in his brain that caused him to have a Transient Ischaemic Attack - or mini stroke - just hours before he was due to face the Springboks.

Had the diagnosis not been made so quickly by the IRFU medical staff, the consequences don't bear thinking about.

Understandably there were fears that this talented player with blossoming leadership qualities would not play again.

For Henry, though, the focus was always to get better and into a pair of boots as soon as possible. The surgery, shortly after the diagnosis, was a success and from there, the rehabilitation started.

Henry had a World Cup in his sights and was not about to see his dream fade. Four years ago being in Ireland's training squad was as close as he got to the tournament in New Zealand. He didn't want to be sitting at home watching it on telly this time.

Just one week after coming out of hospital, Henry was in the gym in December beginning his comeback from what he described as a 'scary' experience.

He upped the ante at the start of this year and to much fanfare made his playing return with Ulster in March.

Such remarkable resolve did not go unnoticed by Schmidt. Once the astute Irish coach felt assured Henry would be fit and well for the World Cup he was in.

And there he was producing heroics at Wembley yesterday.

Not only does Henry deliver on the pitch for Ireland, he offers hope to the rest of the squad off it that they can win the World Cup. After all, when they see him smiling every day, less than a year after overcoming a life threatening condition, it's a sign that anything is possible.

Belfast Telegraph


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