Chris Henry determined to keep Ireland run going
Ulster backrow expects torrid encounter with rugged Argentinian pack
Ireland’s Chris Henry described the enforced retirement of Ulster and Ireland colleague and friend Stephen Ferris as a terrible loss for both club and country. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It’s been a while coming, some four years since his debut in June 2010 against Australia. For sure, Seán O’Brien’s absence has been a major factor but more than ever, at the age of 29, Chris Henry has become a key part of the Ireland team, and a winning one at that.
On Saturday, Henry is set to make his sixth start in succession, having been a regular starter throughout the Six Nations in playing every minute bar the last six against England and Italy.
‘Fantastic year’“It has been a fantastic year. I have loved every minute of it. With Seán missing my goal was to show what I was about and try and do a job for the team and hopefully I did.
“In an Ireland jersey the season has been great and now two more weeks, two more tough games to get through, and it’s just so exciting to be back in this environment.”
Injured 35 minutes into the first game of Joe Schmidt’s reign, and forced to sit out the remainder of the November series, Henry returned in time to play a significant role in Ulster’s wins over Montpellier and away to Leicester to win the race for the Ireland number seven jersey ahead of Tommy O’Donnell and Jordi Murphy.
“The big thing was getting the run of game time. Joe gave me the benefit of the doubt. There was a lot of pressure. I had to perform for him and had to perform for the team as there was so much at stake. I really enjoyed that.
“A run of game time is certainly something that played a big part. It’s all well and good coming off the bench and maybe getting 15 minutes and trying to show what you are about but when you know you are starting the game you can really influence it and you have got 80 minutes to show it.
“It certainly gives you a lot more time to impress.”
Significantly, Henry was kept on for the 80 minutes in the title-clinching win in Paris, when Murphy was the only sub not used, and helped execute the final choke tackle turnover on Sebastien Vahaamahina, with the help of Devin Toner and Paul O’Connell. It’s one of his two stand-out memories of his campaign.
Two things“Probably the two things were the tackle at the end of the French game, holding him (Vahaamahina) up at the end with six of us all jumping in and holding him up after we had got turned over at the scrum; the pass to Johnny Sexton was pretty special as well,” added Henry in relation to his flick which led to Sexton first of two tries.
Henry, like so many others, has been energised by returning to the Schmidt set-up, with the relative lack of knowledge about these young Pumas merely intensifying the players’ workload.
“Argentina is a team that has been together for a while and that channel from inside the ruck to the 10-12 channel, that’s where a lot of traffic comes and that is where I have to be. Certainly, all the backrows know it’s going to be a pretty bruising encounter.
“It’s about who takes that first backward step. It is going to be, as always against Argentina, hugely confrontational and physical. We have researched them physically on the tackle and the breakdown and usually it’s a long way to go to getting the result.”
This tour will, alas, be their last time working with the departing John Plumtree.
“He was great, he definitely got the best out of us as a pack. I’m gutted, to be honest, with news,” admitted Henry.
“It was all a surprise to us him leaving but we know in rugby you have got to make tough decisions and he made the decision for his family. He has brought us on massively. Our maul especially.
Serious damage“The Irish maul I don’t think scored many tries over the years but then we were doing some serious damage to teams and that’s something for this week we need to get right. We need to get that back quickly because it’s a powerful weapon.
“Then there’s his general demeanour around the place. He’s just a calming influence and he just gets the best out of us. You want to go to training when we split forwards/backs and want to make sure you buy into what he says and bring it out because you know what he is saying is spot on.”
For the seven-strong Ulster contingent, confirmation of Stephen Ferris’ premature retirement would not have been a surprise, but would have been no less upsetting for all of that.
“It was on the cards for a while and, whenever you realise he’s made that final decision it brings it all home a wee bit.”
“He’s a massive loss for Irish and Ulster rugby. As a good friend it’s hard to take and puts it all in perspective about how quickly it could all end.”
“For me personally, he was a massive influence on my career,” admitted Henry. “He was a year younger than me, but since he arrived in the academy you could see his talent and what a freak he was.
“What a career he’s had. I’ve no doubt whatever he puts his mind to now he’ll be successful, but it will take a while – I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replace someone like Ferris at Ulster and Ireland.”