Friday 17 January 2020

Henderson eyes bonus-point win as Ulster look for immediate response against Exeter

Iain Henderson. Photo: Sportsfile
Iain Henderson. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After a blistering start to the season in which Ulster racked up five straight victories, they wobbled against Connacht and went into full-scale self-destruct mode in Bordeaux last weekend.

Questions have been asked about whether or not this is the latest in a long line of false dawns up north and tomorrow evening's clash with Exeter Chiefs is already edging towards the 'must-win' category.

With back-to-back meetings against Clermont Auvergne lying in wait before Christmas, Ulster have left themselves with little wriggle room after failing to leave Bordeaux with a losing bonus point.

Les Kiss must surely be counting down the days before he can unleash Marcell Coetzee into the fray but the South African isn't expected to recover from his knee injury until January.

Ulster and Coetzee will hope that their Champions Cup dream is still alive by the time the flanker is fit enough to make his debut.

Kiss could certainly do with Coetzee's ballast as there remains an over-reliance on Iain Henderson's ball-carrying ability.

Henderson has yet to hit top form this season and he admitted that it has been frustrating for him.

"There are things which are going well for me, and others not so well," he said. "Some tackles and a few steals but there have been a few patterns that didn't go our way. That frustrates me and indeed, the whole pack.

"We didn't perform well at all in the second half (against Bordeaux). For a start we didn't exit our own half. In fact, we played the whole second half in our own half, and shouldn't be (like that).

"We're very frustrated at certain aspects. We've looked at kick-offs in particular. We gave away two soft tries against Connacht at kick-off, and we did much the same against Bordeaux.

"We should always aim to get out and into their half, and that suits our mobile pack and explosive backs who can break lines and score tries. This week it's our intention to get out of our half more efficiently with a better success rate than we did last week."

Exeter themselves arrive in Belfast in desperate need of a win after they were humbled at home by Clermont. The beaten Premiership finalists have been suffering a hangover after last year's exploits but, unlike Ulster, they managed to qualify from their pool last season.

Despite the threat that the English side pose, Kiss has already made it clear that his side are eyeing a bonus-point win and Henderson echoed the director of rugby's thoughts.

"Look in Europe, everyone plays as if it's last-chance saloon," the 24-year-old maintained.

"You just have to get as many points as you can out of your group. We found ourselves in an unfortunate position last year.

"We did well after a poor start and came back with four wins. When you lose, you need to get your losing bonus points and when you win, you have to get that five-pointer.

"No one is in an easier group than anyone else. Every team knows they need maximum points, and that's what we must do this week against Exeter."

While Henderson is expecting a confrontational battle up front, he is keen for Ulster to keep the focus on their own game-plan as they look to stifle Exeter's pack and get their quicksilver back-line into the game.

"Geoff Parling runs their lineout and they have good options outside that as well but we will hopefully stem that at source," Henderson added.

"Our defence at that aspect has been good all season and statistically we are probably one of the best mauls in the Pro12. But we will just have to kill their big maul at the all-important source and make sure we get men back on our feet to defend.

"We need the crowd behind us from the start. We have to show Exeter that we are going to be very physical from the off.

"We dare not give them any momentum in the forwards. Once we stop that, we can then hopefully manage them for the rest of the game."

Irish Independent

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