British and Irish Lions lock Iain Henderson has replaced Ireland skipper Rory Best as Ulster captain.
Veteran hooker Best rounded off 15 years with Ulster at the end of last term, and will call full-time on his elite career after leading Ireland into the autumn’s World Cup in Japan.
The 27-year-old Henderson admitted he faces a tall order to live up to Best’s stewardship at the Kingspan Stadium when he returns to provincial action after the World Cup.
“I’m incredibly proud and excited to be appointed as club captain; I had a good chat with (coach) Dan McFarland and I think we’re closely aligned in terms of how we see Ulster moving forward,” said Henderson.
“I’ve got massive boots to fill with Rory outgoing, but it’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.
“When I’ve captained Ulster on previous occasions, it’s been made a lot easier because of the presence of a number of great leaders around me.
“It really helps when you’ve got people like Al (O’Connor), Rob (Herring) and Marcell (Coetzee) behind you, who understand what you’re doing and provide unbelievable support.
“Our squad has a very low age profile and one of the most exciting things for me is seeing the hunger within the group and the players’ desire to improve.
“We also have the likes of Jack (McGrath), Sam (Carter) and Matt (Faddes) coming in, who will add significant additional experience, so I think we’ve got a lot to be excited about going into the new season.”
Henderson boasts 44 Ireland caps and forced his way onto the Lions’ tour to New Zealand in 2017, where he was unlucky not to make a Test appearance in the drawn series against the All Blacks.
A key figure in Ireland’s 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam, Henderson was also part of the 2014 and 2015 title-winning squads.
“Iain has a deep love for his province, he understands exactly what it means to wear the Ulster jersey and this rubs off on those around him,” said Ulster head coach Dan McFarland.
“As a leader, he has demonstrated his ability to command respect through his professionalism and talismanic play.
“Asking Iain to be captain was not a difficult decision and because he is surrounded by a squad of good men, I know that he will flourish.”