Thursday 18 January 2018

Henderson fires up Ulster push

Ulster v Cardiff Blues, Live, BBC 2 NI, 7.35

Iain Henderson. Photo: Sportsfile
Iain Henderson. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Time for Ulster to really throw their weight around before Nick Williams returns to Belfast to throw his.

"He'll definitely be trying to throw a few of us about," smiles Iain Henderson.

Which is why Henderson has stressed that improving Ulster must target a home semi-final as they aim for a seventh successive win at home to Cardiff Blues.

While their prospects of even making the play-offs looked pretty bleak just a few months ago, a stirring return to form, allied with occasional indifference from some of their rivals, has allowed the resurgent northerners to salvage something from what threatened to be another mediocre season of underachievement.

Their work is far from accomplished, though, particularly as they face a fiendish final three-game run-in, featuring two derbies against Munster and Leinster, added to a trip to play-off rivals Ospreys.

But as they continue to throw off their shackles, trying to unburden themselves of Williams' significant heft could be quite another story.

"He is probably the strongest man I have ever met," says Henderson, Ireland's try-scoring hero against England in the Six Nations, as Ulster welcome Cardiff to Belfast for tonight's Guinness PRO12 clash.

"He never came at us full pace in training," he adds, almost in relief. "You have to tackle him high, take him by the legs and prevent momentum. He is the strongest man in rugby.

"Nick has been fantastic for them and he's been influential in a lot of their big games and a few wins as well.

"What's good having played with a player like Nick is knowing what he can do and being partially aware of the damage he can do, given we have been on the giving end of it."

Having re-established their play-off credentials, Henderson knows that his side must carry that momentum through a defining April.

"We're definitely aiming to finish as high up the table as we can," says Henderson, whose side are only nine points off table-toppers Leinster, yet just three ahead of fifth-placed Scarlets.

"We're not only trying to finish in the top four, but we also want to be pushing for the top two.

"We don't want to be straggling trying to hang in there and trying to just about get through. We want to finish the season all guns blazing. Ideally, winning the four games is probably where we need to be at and the standard we need to be at to win the league."

Ulster are strengthened by the return of Irish captain Rory Best and out-half Paddy Jackson while the other change sees Roger Wilson come into the back-row.

It is seven years since Cardiff, enterprising in defeat against Leinster a fortnight ago, won here; they will have to wait another 12 months.

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster - J Payne; C Gilroy, L Marshall, S Olding, C Piutau; P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Best (capt), W Herbst; K Treadwell, A O'Connor; I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson.

Reps: R Herring, C Black, R Ah You, R Diack, N Timoney, P Marshall, J Stockdale, A Trimble.

Cardiff Blues - R Williams; A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, B Scully; G Anscombe, L Williams; G Jenkins (capt), M Rees, T Filise, G Earle, J Hoeata, E Jenkins, S Warburton, J Navidi.

Reps: K Myhill, C Domachowski, K Assiratti, J Down, N Williams, T Williams, S Shingler, M Morgan.

Ref - Ian Davies (WRU).

Irish Independent

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