It’s last man standing for Ulster in every respect
Chris Henry knows that the team is going to have to produce monumental performances to extend their season
Ulster’s Chris Henry makes a charge in the Heineken Cup match against Montpellier earlier this season. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho. Heineken Cup 10/1/2014Ulster vs MontpellierUlster’s Chris HenryMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
There may be a triage unit veneer to Ulster’s training facility at Newforge given the high volume of injuries. Throw-in the nature of their Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens and ridiculously severe set of fixtures on the run-in to the RaboDirect Pro12 play-offs and it’s reasonable to assume that not many lottery tickets have been purchased.
The Irish province host Leinster at Ravenhill on Friday night, a match that will mark the official opening of the newly revamped Belfast venue. Victory is a prerequisite and Ulster may require an additional point or two when they travel to Thomond Park the following weekend just to make a semi-final in the tournament.
Medium-term casualties Ruan Pienaar, Declan Fitzpatrick and Rory Best have worryingly been joined on the sidelines by Stephen Ferris. The latter damaged his “good” ankle – not the one that kept him out for 16 months – against Saracens and was expected to play against Leinster but isn’t available for selection.
A question mark hangs over the participation of tighthead props John Afoa and Ricky Lutton. While Roger Wilson and Dan Tuohy both trained this week for the first time, their presence on Friday night is not yet guaranteed. The silver lining in the cloud of injury concerns is that Tom Court and Callum Black are available.
Ulster are being coursed by the Ospreys for fourth place, the Irish province five points ahead at the moment but aware that their Welsh rivals will fancy collecting 10 points in their final two fixtures. A season that promised so much for so long threatens to disintegrate.
Ireland and Ulster openside flanker Chris Henry knows now is not the time to bend the knee. Resilience and tenacity will be cherished characteristics over the next 10 days in two season-defining matches. He admitted: “It has definitely been a tough few weeks from Saracens, losing the way we did and the legacy of injuries as well.
“You appreciate that sport is like that at times (but) maybe we have been guilty in dwelling on it a bit much. Our performances of late haven’t been worthy of where we wanted to be. This is our challenge now with one of the best sides in Europe coming to play us. For us we want to stay in the mix and extend our season for as long as possible, we are going to have to do something very special this Friday night.
“It’s do or die time; we know we need points, desperately. Leinster are a side that know how to finish the end to a season very well and that’s something we are going to have to counter.”
Adversity can be a catalyst for teams and Ulster head into Friday night armed with a bucketful. Henry continued: “We have to use all those frustrations of the past few weeks and bring it out (on the night).
“We have to let Leinster know early on that this is our home patch and that they’re in for a game. There are obviously other motivational factors, such as the new stand and players leaving at the end of the season; we will use every bit we can (to draw out a performance).
“Every provincial game is hugely confrontational. Then there is also the one-on-one battles that are coming this weekend. That really excites me as well. There is a tour (to Argentina) in a few weeks’ time, people are aware of that and it is going to add to the occasion.”
Henry is referring to Ireland’s two-Test summer tour to Argentina. National coach Joe Schmidt has been handed a series of mini-trials the way the end-of-season fixtures have fallen and these games are where Henry and his Ulster team-mates are hoping to impress to gain national acclaim.