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Ulster Rugby ace Chis Henry is driven on by World Cup woe

By Jonathan Bradley

Having already experienced the misery of World Cup exclusion once before, Chris Henry is determined not to let history repeat itself this time around - and is hoping to get a chance to impress in Saturday's first warm-up match against Wales (2.30pm).

The Ulster flanker, having won his first cap against Australia in the summer of 2010, was on stand-by for the 2011 tournament but, even when back-rower David Wallace picked up an injury, he did not receive a call from then-coach Declan Kidney.

"When David Wallace got injured it was Shane Jennings who was brought out," the Malone man recalled.

"Then, when Jamie (Heaslip) was an injury doubt, it was Kevin McLaughlin who was going to be selected, so I was left gutted. I feel my game has come on massively in the last four years and I'd be lying if I said the World Cup hasn't been a goal."

For a player so irked by his lack of career progress back in late 2008 that he considered giving up rugby in favour of air traffic control, to miss out on the trip to New Zealand was a bitter blow but such on-field struggles were put into perspective last year.

On the morning of a November Test with South Africa, Henry suffered a mini-stroke and required surgery to repair a defect in his heart wall.

For a time, rugby became the most secondary of concerns and there were doubts whether he would ever play the game again.

However, after making his return in a PRO12 contest with Cardiff in March, Henry sufficiently proved his fitness over the closing month of the season to be included in the starting line-up for Ireland's tussle with the Barbarians at Thomond Park in May.

"For the Baa-Baas game, when others were looking forward to summer, I was raring to go," the openside recalled of a game in which he scored a try in a 21-22 defeat.

"I was just delighted to be out there and it was a game I really enjoyed. The summer was good but now I'm just really enjoying getting back and getting stuck in.

"The World Cup has been a goal for a long time. November obviously put a pretty big spanner in the works but now I'm fit and healthy.

"I feel really driven now and I just don't want to have any regrets."

With the game against rugby's most feted invitational team not granted full Test status, Henry is yet to earn the 17th cap that would have come against the Springboks last autumn.

He may do so this weekend, however, as Ireland travel to Wales for the first of four pre-World Cup games.

With Joe Schmidt set to reduce his panel for the tournament to a final 31-man squad by the end of this month, Henry is under no illusions about the importance of the warm-up games, especially in the ultra-competitive backrow.

Barring late injury, the established trio of Jamie Heaslip, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien are sure to be on the plane while presumptive locks Iain Henderson and Donnacha Ryan have also been capped at flanker, although in the case of the latter not for four years.

"Maybe in the past the approach will have changed for games like these but with Joe they really are entities in themselves," said Henry.

"These are Test matches.

"Yes there are players going in with a lot at stake, but if you get too far ahead then you're already out the door.

"The bottom line is a closed roof in Cardiff and a full house is a special thing in itself to be involved in.

"That's the way any player who gets a run-out will be approaching it."

Henry will clearly be hoping that he is among them when Schmidt's team is named come Thursday.

Belfast Telegraph


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