Henry: I won't give up No 7 shirt lightly
Published 05/06/2014 | 02:30
THERE is an onus on any late bloomer to seize the chances he's given and Ulster's Chris Henry has done just that this season.
Up in Ulster, they have been raving about their openside for years, but it has taken a lot longer for him to appreciated in the national set-up.
Having Sean O'Brien ahead of him in the pecking order hasn't helped, but what is impressive about the 29-year-old's campaign is how little Ireland's most impactful player was missed during a successful Six Nations.
Henry doesn't try and be O'Brien, but he was arguably Ireland's best player in Paris, with his subtle hands putting Johnny Sexton over for a try and his demonic tackling helping keep the French at bay as they threatened to cut loose.
He puts part of his rise down to being backed by Joe Schmidt who, having seen what a nuisance Henry can be when coaching against Ulster for Leinster, has had little hesitation in turning to the flanker.
"The big thing was getting the run of game time," he explained. "Joe gave me the benefit of the doubt.
"There was a lot of pressure. I had to perform for him and had to perform for the team as there was so much at stake. I really enjoyed that. A run of game time is certainly something that played a big part.
"It's well and good coming off the bench and maybe getting 15 minutes and trying to show what you are about, but when you know you are starting the game you can really influence it and you have got 80 minutes to show it. It certainly gives you a lot more time to impress."
He did just that and, after O'Brien was given the summer off to continue his recovery from a shoulder injury, Henry remains the man in possession of the No 7 shirt in Argentina.
"With Sean missing, my goal was to show what I was about and try and do a job for the team and hopefully I did," he said.
"In an Ireland jersey the season has been great and now two more weeks, two more tough games to get through, and it's just so exciting to be back in this environment."
After such success in a green jersey this season, Henry and the pack face a major change the next time they re-assemble after this tour after John Plumtree announced he was moving on from his role as forwards coach.
Paul O'Connell has heaped praise on the departing New Zealander and Henry agrees that he will be missed.
"He definitely got the best out of us as a pack. I'm gutted with the news," Henry said. "He has brought us on massively; our maul especially. The Irish maul I don't think scored many tries over the years but then we were doing some serious damage to teams and that's something for this week we need to get right.
"We need to get that back quickly because it's a powerful weapon. Then there's his general demeanour around the place. He's just a calming influence and he just gets the best out of us. You want to go to training when we split forwards/ backs and want to make sure you buy into what he says because you know what he is saying is spot on."