THE LOSS OF Ulster captain Johann Muller with a thumb injury has been offset by the fact that a natural-born leader has been in their midst for the past seven years.
Chris Henry is just four games into his fifth season as a professional with Ulster but the magnitude of his performances have led to calls for his elevation to the Ireland number seven jersey in place of the injured Sean O’Brien.
While the 28-year-old admits that it is ‘fantastic to be involved’ in the Irish set-up for the Guinness Series in November, he has his sights firmly set on a visit to Wales to take on the struggling Newport Gwent Dragons.
“We go about our business well and are never complacent,” he told TheScore.ie. “That’s where you can slip up.
“The Dragons are a difficult side to play at home and they certainly won’t make it easy for us.”
The wee blonde prop
The loss of the side’s influential South African captain may not hinder Ulster in the Pro12, for now, but the big challenge lies ahead in December with league matches against Scarlets and Leinster, and a Heineken Cup back-and-forth with Northampton Saints. Henry said:
It’s a large blow for us. Johann has such a big presence on and off the field. I’m comfortable in the role and, luckily, with this team there won’t be too much extra responsibilities to take on.
“There are lots of leaders who are willing to step up.”
Henry first stepped up to the captaincy role when he was in his final year at Wallace High School and playing back row for the senior team.
Neil Hines, a P.E teacher at the Lisburn school, described Henry as a starting his rugby-playing career as ‘a wee blonde prop’ who quickly developed into a senior figure.
“I was always in the front row at the start but I got a bit of a back injury and they hooshed me to the back of the pack,” Henry remarked. “I haven’t looked back since.”
Muller was rested from the Ulster team that took on Cardiff Blues in Wales in the first match after the tragic passing of teammate Nevin Spence. Henry led the team onto the pitch that evening and declared, after Ulster won 48-19, ‘hopefully we did Nevin proud’.
Ulster players during the minute silence, prior to the victory over Cardiff, in memory Nevin Spence. (©INPHO/Huw Evans)
Henry said, “It was always going to be a really emotional and difficult occasion. I was delighted to get the win that night and with the performance too.”
The man who would be seven
While Ireland coach Declan Kidney declared that Henry has ‘obviously been doing a good job at seven’, his provincial coach Mark Anscombe is effusive in his praise.
The Kiwi told the Belfast Telegraph, “I’ll be disappointed if he’s not in the green jersey in a couple of weeks time. He has shown enough to justify an opportunity to run out against South Africa, there’s no doubt about that.”
Henry made his Ireland debut against Australia on a summer tour in 2010. His second cap was a 25-minute stint in the 60-0 humbling against the All Blacks, although the majority of the damage was done by the time he replaced Kevin McLaughlin.
But Henry feels that he is settled in the openside flanker role and would relish the chance to test himself against the South African back row on 10 November.
It would be fantastic to be involved again. I had a taster for it during the summer although, obviously, the result wasn’t the best.”
“Number 7 is my home now,” he said. “It’s where I feel I do my best work.”