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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 27 May, 2020

'They're the best changing rooms to win in': Henderson proud of Ulster's tight squeeze

The lock led his province out for the first time since being named captain, and it proved to be a very memorable day.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IT SEEMED LIKE an age in coming, but Iain Henderson finally led Ulster out having been appointed permanent captain in the summer.

Saturday was Henderson’s first appearance in the Ulster jersey this season owing to the World Cup. For that landmark to come hand-in-hand with a 16-17 victory in Bath in the European Cup made it a special day indeed.

“We talk a lot about getting excited about Europe, getting the opportunity to play a lot of teams that you wouldn’t get to play usually and not let those opportunities pass you by,”  Henderson said after a dramatic finish at The Rec.

It wasn’t pretty at the best of times out there today, but that energy just adds to those away wins, those dogged wins we talk about in a place like this, a changing room like that.

“People complain about that changing room, and changing rooms like Welford Road, The Stoop, but they’re the best changing rooms to win in.”

Ulster had little possession to work with throughout the game and were scrappy when they did, yet they still managed to break away to score two tries. They were by no means clinical. But what they lacked in efficiency they made up for with effort, as Jacob Stockdale’s late try-saver perfectly exemplified.

Sometimes the margins are so fine that the roar of the crowd can tilt the balance.

“That’s something that makes European away games very special,” says the new Ulster skipper, “that lift you get from the unexpected support, so to speak, is unbelievable.

When you see either side of the tunnel, down the other end, lines on either side of the pitch, it’s great. In the darkest part of the game, it’s always positive to be able to look up and see that or hear it.”

A perfect start to the European campaign and his first steps in the very large shoes vacated by Rory Best.

“Over the last number of years the average age of the squad has been dropping and along with that comes a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. The guys who don’t get the opportunities are adding that energy and that want to be involved throughout the whole week – that energy adds to the whole excitement and it spills over into matchday.”

The lock added:

“Coming back in the energy has been unbelievable about the place.

“There’s been a different, not style to training but just a set-up to the days, and the lads are buzzing. There’s competition in training and excitement that’s next level. 

“To come back into that is utterly refreshing. It’s a very good place to be in and a positive place to be in. It’s been a class week and all I can say is I’m looking forward to next week.”

iain-henderson-speaks-to-his-team-after-the-game Henderson speaks to his squad after the win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Next week means one of those enormous Friday nights at Ravenhill. The challenge will be to slow down and topple a Clermont side who were absolutely rampant against Harlequins. Discipline will be top of the list of work-ons.

“We talked about that in the first half, the penalty count wasn’t good enough.

“We talked about that a few weeks ago, it was slightly disappointing to see that slip back in, but for the guys to rectify that over a short period of time and be able to say, ‘we’re not going to give away as much now and we’re going to look after the ball when we have it.’

“The lads are very good at responding to a message given to them by coaching or by leaders.  I think that’s something this team has shown: its capability to learn and develop that sort of skill.

“Because it is a skill at the end of the day, being able to take on an order or command, whoever is giving it to you  and being able to progress on from there.

“I’m very proud of the lads.”

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Richard Mulligan

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