Waiting game pays dividends for Henry
RUGBY: Amid all the talk of the young Ulster tyros cutting a swathe through the Irish ranks, there is an equally inspiring if more circuitous route to the top. If at first you don’t succeed and all that. And as Darren Cave highlighted before the Fijian game, no one epitomises this patience and persistence more than Chris Henry.
The backrower, who turned 28 last month, broke into the Ulster side five years ago after coming through their academy and earning a development contract before being promoted to a full contract in 2007.
Having established himself as their first-choice number eight in 2009-10, following the arrival of Pedrie Wannenburg he effectively re-invented himself as an openside, augmenting his strong carrying with increasingly productive and destructive work at the breakdown.
Henry did so to such an extent that he made the number seven jersey his own, and in the last three and a bit seasons has started 70 games for the province, often leading them when Rory Best or Johann Muller have not been available.
Having made his debut on the summer tour of 2009 in Australia as a number eight, and with only one cap as a replacement since on last June’s tour to New Zealand, he wore the Irish number seven jersey for the first time against South Africa a fortnight ago.
“It’s funny because myself and Darren Cave were talking and saying ‘oh gosh, it’s incredible to see guys like Iain Henderson getting their chances so young’. But I think for us it’s great, we want to see younger guys getting a go if they’re ready. It’s obviously a huge step up, but any young guy who comes in and adds that bit of enthusiasm and bit of excitement drives other guys on.
“Donncha [O’Callaghan] always talks about it. He loves the atmosphere around the younger lads because they don’t have the experience and that’s the great thing.”
‘Stupid’ yellow card
During the week he was still bemoaning his own “stupid” yellow card against Fiji, but living on the edge of the laws comes with the territory of the number seven’s role in possibly the most significant area of the game nowadays. “The breakdown at this level is exactly what it’s all about. Maybe I’m biased as a backrow but if you can get your fast ball, disrupt their ball, that about wins you your game.”
That challenge will be every bit as great this week. “I think the South African backrow probably aren’t as mobile as this Argentina backrow, so they’re going to be very physical and great on the ball but also slightly different.
“All the backrowers have been talking this week about what a massive challenge the breakdown’s going to be. It’s been bubbling already in training and today was probably the edgiest training session of this campaign and, from teams I’ve been involved with in the past, when you’re this edgy this early in the week and you’re getting tetchy with your team-mates, that’s probably a good sign.
“It’s boiling up, and losing to South Africa two weeks ago definitely was one of the hardest moments of my rugby career. Losing at home is hard to take and I didn’t think it would hurt as much as it did.
“Getting the Fiji win and scoring those tries that we scored; people talk about it not being a full Test match but I think we used it in the right way and it was great to score tries and to actually enjoy a rugby game. I think if we can get the balance right between the hurt of the first game and the confidence of the second game then hopefully we’ll be flying for this week.”
As they’ve also shown in both the Rugby Championship and on their November tour to date, these Pumas have added a few strings to their bow. “People talk about Argentina and their big packs and how they outmuscle you, but from what I’ve seen of Argentina a perfect example would be the New Zealand game where they scored an unbelievable try which they created from their start of play; their offloading game, they made five or six incredible offloads and scored in the corner, so it’s not the Argentina of old,” said Henry.
“They’ve obviously got that physicality and aggression, which I’m sure they’ll come with, with that passion they have but certainly they’re not a one-trick pony.
“We know we’ve got to be on the money in how we defend and how we approach them because they’re not afraid to pass the ball and they’ve got some skillful players.”