Sunday 19 November 2017

Henry on mission to catch Kidney eye

David Kelly

David Kelly

Ulster were not alone in laying down a marker in Ravenhill seven days ago.

While last season's finalists were eager to proclaim that they can become an even stronger European force than last term, Chris Henry was hammering home an equally significant message in terms of his Ireland ambitions.

A contender for Man of the Match in the 41-17 win bonus-point win against Castres, Henry had been switched to No 8 after Stephen Ferris' late injury cry-off and the Lisburn man remained utterly unaffected.

Whether from restarts, on the floor or in the tackle, Henry delivered a momentous display in a back three notably devoid of European experience.

Immense

The immense presence of Nick Williams may return to action for tonight's game in Scotstoun against Glasgow Warriors, but once more Henry will be a key figure in attempting to negate the influence of an often underrated Scottish back-row.

A grander ambition for this feisty player is to accelerate his Ireland career, building on his two brief appearances, the most recent a cameo amid the humiliation of Hamilton in June.

"Personally, one of my goals is to put on the Irish jersey as many times as possible," says Henry, who turned 28 this week.

Injury to Sean O'Brien may aid his cause, as will the dwindling resources in the back-row following the retirements of David Wallace and Denis Leamy.

"I got a taste of it in New Zealand during the summer. The result wasn't what I was hoping for, but for me it was great to get out there," he says.

"This autumn, if any opportunities come my way, I want to grab them. I'm finding a bit of form at the moment, but I still think there's a lot more in me. I want to show the coaches that I'm here to play if they need me."

Tonight he will resume at openside, flanking opposite the exciting Iain Henderson, as Ulster seek to extend their unbeaten run this term.

"It could have been easy to use disruptions as an excuse last week, with Stephen pulling out at the last minute," he offers. "But Iain, especially, has really taken his chances well for such a young guy. His performance was outstanding.

"He was really nervous before the game, but once he made that first tackle and run, that didn't show at all. We're going to see a lot of him in the future."

The back-to-back clashes against Northampton look to hold the key to qualification from this pool, but Ulster, who have already beaten Glasgow in Pro12 fare this season, will be keen not lose sight of the immediate four-point task at hand.

Henry admits that Ulster's line-out creaked horribly against Castres, who were haplessly unable to punish them -- doubtless, the Scots will be much hungrier in the air.

"Every time we play them, they do a good job at disrupting us at the breakdown and frustrating our attack," says Henry. "Ally Kellock plays a huge part in the line-out and they've a solid scrum.

"They always start extremely well, as they showed last week. We can't coast into this game. We have to come with everything from the first minute and play the 80 minutes. Because we know they'll keep playing to the end at home."

As expected, the return to fitness and prominence of Williams and Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar represent the only changes required by Ulster coach Mark Anscombe as he eyes up the home side's buoyant half-back pairing.

"Paul (Marshall) played outstandingly last week and he showed what he is capable of with a Man of the Match performance. But we're in the position where we have two fantastic options at scrum-half," explained Anscombe of the harsh call in demoting Marshall.

"Ruan came on and showed what a quality player he is with his distribution and a try at the end.

"We have to select the team to win specific games and that's what we've done for this weekend. Rugby is an 80-minute game and it's important to have someone like Paul, who can come on and make an impact."

For Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend, his hand is forced by a lengthy list of injuries.

Chris Cusiter (shoulder), Ed Kalman (back), Rory Lamont (leg), Sean Lamont (face), Moray Low (knee), Pat MacArthur (foot), Angus Macdonald (neck), Graeme Morrison (knee), DTH van der Merwe (hamstring), Jon Welsh (shoulder) and Duncan Weir (knee) are all out.

Former Ulster wing Tommy Seymour was added to the absentee list last night when he was suspended for a week for tip-tackling Northampton's Blackrock-educated Russian wing Vasily Artemyev last weekend.

Despite such a catalogue of calamity, Townsend has still benched ace flanker John Barclay.

The Scots have pumped a decent wedge of cash into their surviving brace of professional outfits. Neither, however, are doing much to convince that the investment is worth it, so tonight is pivotal for their immediate future. We can compete against Ulster," declared prop Ryan Grant. "We have played against them many, many times before and know they are a quality outfit and Heineken Cup finalists. We are not underestimating them.

"But it is not Everest, we have beaten them before and can beat them again tomorrow night."

For all that belligerence, you feel Ulster are a tad more adept at scaling the peaks.

Verdict: Ulster

Glasgow Warriors -- S Hogg; B McGuigan, P Murchie, P Horne, A Dunbar; R Jackson, H Pyrgos; R Grant, D Hall, M Cusack; T Ryder, A Kellock (c); J Strauss, C Fusaro, R Wilson. Reps: F Gillies, O Fainga'anuku, G Reid, T Swinson, R Harley, J Barclay, S Wight, N Matawalu.

Ulster -- J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (c), D Tuohy, I Henderson, C Henry, N Williams. Reps: R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson, M McComish, P Marshall, L Marshall, C Gilroy.

Ref -- M Raynal (Fra).

Glasgow Warriors v Ulster,

Live, Sky Sports 2, 8.0

Irish Independent

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