HE WAS THE target for one of the nastier hits in an intensely physical Test match.
But Ulster flanker Chris Henry’s post-match wince is brought on by something closer to anguish than a physical ache.
Any swelling or bruises will contract again in the coming hours, but it could be a long, long time before the pain of this defeat is totally soothed.
“It’s a really tough game for everyone to take because we all thought it was for the taking.” Henry says after experiencing his first loss of the season.
“We had a great lead at half time and we were playing, not our best rugby, but we were controlled and taking points and opportunities when they came. Certainly inside we’re all hurting more than our bodies.”
His 31st minute trampling by the shoulder of JP Pietersen changed the course of the game at the Aviva Stadium. Being reduced to 14 men focused the minds of the visiting Springboks and they would not only keep Ireland at bay for the 10 minutes before half time, but scoreless in the entire game from that moment on.
“Whenever they got their guy back on the pitch and we lost Jamie (Heaslip) that was a big turning point. When you go a man down, it really puts the pressure on, but they took their opportunity.
“You talk about positives; I suppose a lot of young guys got on and got their first caps, but there’s no hiding the fact that everyone in the changing room there is really, really hurting.”
Henry barely needs to repeat himself to emphasise athe point. Tonight his eyes and voice transmit absolute honesty. He asserts that the scuffle which followed Pietersen’s late shoulder did not leave Ireland feeling bullied, but does lament the side’s inability to put their foot down, rather than ease off.
“If anything, they had a man off and we should have upped the ante a bit. I don’t know if they upped their game or we relaxed a bit, but it certainly shows you have to play the full 80 minutes. It’s another learning curve, I suppose.”
The Ulster back row can barely listen to himself saying the final sentence. This Irish side, after five defeats on the trot, is sick to death of learning curves.
“It’s frustrating, because we keep on talking about ‘learning, learning’. We feel as players – there’s a lot of talk about the players that are missing – but we believe in eachother and we thought this is our time and we certainly thought today was going to be a win, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
In a game riddled by the piercing whistle of Wayne Barnes, the openside flanker was only too aware of the mounting toll being laid against the black shirts.
“Ultimately, I think they did a really good job in our wide breakdowns. They won really crucial turnovers. I think the (Irish) penalty count the first half was really, really good.
“The second half, there was a series of penalties against us in a row. It’s okay to give a penalty away as a one off, but whenever it happens in succession it really builds up momentum. That’s one issue that will be addressed this week.”
Watching the game back today and mending ill-discipline this week can only make Henry’s pain sharper. There is no soothing balm to be applied in the coming days; victory over Fiji’s shadow squad cannot provide relief.
Argentina await. And their tails are up.