HAVING LAST PLAYED a game eight weeks previously, Chris Henry found it difficult to accept being withdrawn after 66 minutes of Friday night’s Pro12 clash with Munster.
The darkest hours of many a professional rugby career are those spent on the sidelines injured, and the Ulster flanker could hardly be blamed for wanting to stay on the pitch. Fully recovered from the hamstring problem sustained in action for Ireland in November, Henry is set to play a vital role in the remainder of the season for province, and quite possibly country.
For now, the 29-year-old is content just to be back in action.
“I’m delighted to get through 66 minutes. At that stage, I would have liked to have stayed on, but it was the right thing to do to come off. Sean [Doyle] did very well when he came on. Being out for seven weeks, you do miss it so much.
Mentally it is very hard when you see the team doing well. Just to bounce back from last week, I suppose, is the main thing. There was a lot of pressure on the team and I thought the boys really stood up. In a trial game like that, there was always going to be a lot of match-ups and I think overall, one to 15, the boys should be happy enough.”
Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell wasn’t name-checked, but there is little doubt that Joe Schmidt will have been keeping a close eye on that particular head-to-head. It was Henry who enjoyed the better of it, despite his lack of game time in recent months.
A couple of sharp turnovers and some attack-slowing competition at the breakdown were the highlights, although Henry made 10 strong tackles too. Self-analysis is a difficult thing to do immediately post-match, but the Ulsterman performed well in that regard as well.
Henry is almost certain to be back in the Ireland mix this spring. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
“It took me a bit to get into it. In those breakdowns and rucks, you forget how hard people try to smack you, so it took a while to get into it. I was happy with a few of the turnovers I got; I think there’s still plenty more from me.
“I’m delighted to have got some good game time under my belt. In an ideal world, it would’ve been nice to be back last week for a bit but as I said, it’s a massive part of the season for us these three or four weeks and what’s ahead of us. So for me to put myself into the mix and try to get back in this team, I’m happy enough.”
Whatever about his individual contentment, Henry and his fellow forwards were not pleased with their second half display. To be shunted over their own try-line for two tries in front of the Ravenhill crowd was unacceptable for the northern province.
Vast improvement will be needed in the tight against Top 14 outfit Montpellier on Friday, and then Leicester Tigers a week later as the Heineken Cup resumes. Henry admits the pack’s performance wasn’t up to scratch.
“I think there’s lots to work on, as a pack especially. You think of the two teams we’ve got coming up against us, two massive packs. We’re not particularly happy with our set-piece in general. Obviously, our maul defence is something we have to look at and a few of our scrum issues.
“But there was big match-ups. You think of the experience that Munster pack had against some of us. Young Iain Henderson and Dan [Tuohy] against Donncha [O'Callaghan] and Paulie [O'Connell] was the biggest match-up. I think the two lads did extremely well.”
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