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Dublin: 12°C Thursday 22 April 2021

Talismanic Henderson 'a big loss' as Ulster prepare for Edinburgh trip

The Scottish club are aiming to reach their first-ever Pro14 final.

BIG PLAYERS OFTEN decide the biggest games with big plays in the crucial moments.

While John Cooney, Stuart McCloskey, and Marcell Coetzee are amongst Ulster’s most influential players, there is no doubting the importance of captain Iain Henderson to the northern province.

So missing Ireland international lock Henderson for their Guinness Pro14 semi-final away to Edinburgh on Saturday, as well as likely being without him for next month’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse, is far from ideal.

ulsters-iain-henderson Ulster are without their captain as they head into knock-out rugby. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 28-year-old was ruled out for up to 10 weeks last month due to a hip injury and as Ulster attempt to pull off an away semi-final victory this weekend, his absence stands out even more.

Dan McFarland hasn’t had much in the way of injury luck for this restarted season, with fullback Will Addison struggling with a back issue and wing Robert Baloucoune tearing his hamstring off the bone in training. Ulster do hope that McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, and Jordi Murphy will overcome injuries from last weekend to play in Edinburgh.

Henderson’s leadership and physicality are likely to be missed most of all as Ulster return to knock-out rugby, and Edinburgh are content not to be facing the 2017 Lions tourist, even if McFarland has several second row options.

“He’s obviously such a great player and a real talisman for Ulster so him missing is a big loss,” said Edinburgh captain Stuart McInally. “We haven’t spoken too much about it, there’s no point focusing on who they might pick and who they won’t.

“Obviously we know Henderson is out but the guys they have to come in are quality players and their set-piece is really good. They don’t just rely on him.

“As good a carrier as Iain Henderson is they’re not short on carriers in that forward pack. The guys who come in will step right up and we need to make sure we’re on the ball on Saturday.” 

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McFarland has Sam Carter, Alan O’Connor, and Kieran Treadwell vying for second row spots in his team without Henderson, so will expect a strong showing in that department regardless. 

stuart-mcinally-celebrates-with-the-1872-cup-after-winning-the-derby-match Edinburgh captain Stuart McInally with the 1872 Cup. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

While Ulster are aiming to reach their first Pro14 decider since 2013, Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh are targeting their first-ever final in the competition.

The club has progressed throughout Cockerill’s three years in charge and they now find themselves on the cusp of taking another major step.

“Certainly for Scottish rugby, it would be huge and it would be us achieving something we never have before at Edinburgh,” said McInally.

“That’s a big motivating factor for us and it would be a big confidence boost for us knowing we can compete in what has turned into a 15-game season and then into play-offs.

“To beat a team like Ulster to reach a first final, we would feel we’ve earned the right to be there.” 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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