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Chris Henry happy with watching brief (for now) as Ulster take on Leinster

The Ulster flanker never thought he’d be in this situation and is looking forward to a possible return to play this season.

IN THE RDS today (kick-off 14.40), Ulster will hope to follow Connacht’s lead and buck a trend in inter-provincial rivalries.

On Thursday, the western province powered to just their second win over Munster in 19 years. Ulster will run out at the RDS in search of their second ever win at the RDS.

Devin Toner with Chris Henry Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

To do that,  they must take on Matt O’Connor’s side without the man who has so often forced Leinster to rethink their gameplan.

The revelation of a heart wall defect turned Chris Henry’s world upside down in 2014. The November internationals providing a personal terrifying low to what was otherwise a landmark year for the brilliant breakdown specialist.

“When you are in this environment,” Henry said on UlsterRugby.com, ”you think – I am a big strong boy, nothing like that could ever happen to me. It just shows that we are all human and things like that can happen at any time.”

“It has been an eventful year, lots of highs and one big low; looking back to that [Six Nations] Championship with Ireland, it was incredible to be involved.

“I never thought that I would be involved so much so to play a lot of minutes and to win it, was really incredible. That was definitely the highlight of the year for me.”

His heart trouble means Henry will not return to play in time to help Joe Schmidt mount a title defence in the spring, but the 30-year-old is aiming to make his presence felt again before the end of the season. For now, he is content just to be back in the saddle, back among the group even if he can’t help them out in the way he would like.

Paul Marshall The environment: Ulster players all smiles as Jackson and Pienaar pair up. Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

“Whenever that [episode] happened, your mind plays tricks on you and you begin to think the worst. At one stage there was a chance that I might have to stop playing rugby all together. My perspective is that I will never take it for granted, but that first game back playing is going to be an amazing feeling. I now really enjoy the small things about being in this environment. I was out for two weeks completely and I am just so happy that I can come in now and sit on a bike or sit in a meeting because I really missed being around the team. We are very fortunate to do what we do and are lucky to do a job that we love.

“First things first, I am convinced that I will be back before the end of this season.

“Obviously the European Cup hasn’t gone the way we would have liked it to this year. We demand a lot from each other and we want to compete on all fronts. The league is something that we have been close to in recent years and if I can come back in any way before the end of the season to contribute something towards the team and our goal for silverware that would be great.”

Beating Leinster today would be a massive step towards that goal. The hosts kick off at the RDS today three points behind the northern province and a win for either team would provide a massive momentum boost in the playoff chase.

Matt O’Connor and Neil Doak have been able to recall their big guns after a seasonal international rest period and also their star overseas imports. Despite the return to fitness of Ben Te’o, Leinster have made minimal changes to the backline with Fergus McFadden coming in on the right wing in place of Darragh Fanning.

Ben Te'o Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Ulster welcome back Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half, and the Springbok’s presence behind the pack could light the fuse of an impressive back line with Stuart Olding, Darren Cave and Tommy Bowe outside.

As ever though, it’s the packs that will decide the contest. O’Connor this week cited an ‘attitude adjustment’ driven by the players to ensure Leinster are not bullied as they were in Thomond Park. Key to that, will be how the hosts set the tone in the opening quarter, says O’Connor.

“It’s about the 80 minutes this week and that we start well, actually get the intention right and then we deliver on what we want to deliver on – intensity, with and without the ball, at set piece.

“We want to make sure that all the bits in our game are functioning so that when an opportunity presents itself, we’re good enough to take them.”

Through some titanic battles with Leinster in recent years, an inability to take chances has been Ulster’s downfall. To give space and ball to the main attack threats at the back, Doak’s men will be out to make the set-piece fast and efficient. Exactly what Henry helps to do to their rucks.

Leinster

1. Jack McGrath
2, Richardt Strauss
3. Mike Ross
4. Devin Toner
5. Mike McCarthy
6. Jack Conan
7. Shane Jennings
8. Jamie Heaslip (Capt.)
9. Isaac Boss
10. Ian Madigan
11. Dave Kearney
12. Gordon D’Arcy
13. Luke Fitzgerald
14. Fergus McFadden
15. Zane Kirchner

16. Sean Cronin
17. Michael Bent
18. Tadhg Furlong
19. Kane Douglas
20. Jordi Murphy
21. Luke McGrath
22. Jimmy Gopperth
23. Ben Te’o

Ulster

1. Callum Black
2. Rory Best (Capt.)
3. Wiehahn Herbst
4. Dan Tuohy
%. Franco Van Der Merwe
6. Robbie Diack
7. Clive Ross
8. Roger Wilson
9. Ruan Pienaar
10. Paddy Jackson
11. Craig Gilroy
12. Stuart Olding
13. Darren Cave
14. Tommy Bowe
15. Peter Nelson

16. Rob Herring
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Bronson Ross
19. Alan O’Connor
20. Sean Reidy
21. Paul Marshall
22. Ian Humphreys
23. Luke Marshall.

Heaslip insisting Leinster ‘in a good space’ as he narrows focus to Ulster threat

Ian Keatley used the western wind to his full advantage to nail an outrageous touchline conversion

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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