Chris Henry hoping he's still in Joe Schmidt's thoughts
CHRIS Henry has pleaded with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt not to forget about him as he makes his return from injury.
The visit of the Scarlets to Kingspan Stadium this weekend will see the openside make his first appearance for Ulster since their dramatic 24-23 win at Oyonnax in early January.
A shoulder injury suffered early on in the victory over Toulouse a month previous was the start of the trouble, which also ruled him out of the start of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign.
The hamstring injury suffered by Sean O’Brien in Paris last weekend is set to open the door to Henry to have some involvement ahead of next weekend’s Twickenham clash with England.
But with CJ Stander having made a huge impression in his first two caps, and Tommy O’Donnell and Rhys Ruddock both making an impact from the bench, Henry knows that he is down the pecking order at present.
“Tommy O’Donnell hasn’t let Joe down, and Rhys Ruddock hasn’t let Joe down. If there’s a thing about Joe, he rewards people who he trusts that haven’t let him down,” said Henry.
“I hope that he knows I’ve done a job for him in the past and I’m still there.
“But it’s just so far off. My focus is about Ulster. It’s worked for me in the past when I’ve had setbacks.
“It might hopefully be enough time to have some involvement, whether it’s coming down to help contribute in the training week, which would be amazing.”
There is clearly something about Henry that Joe Schmidt likes, however.
He has missed almost all of the last two Six Nations campaigns due to a torn hamstring and heart surgery, respectively.
Yet, when O’Brien was ruled out of last autumn’s World Cup quarter-final with Argentina, it was the 31-year-old Ulster flanker who jumped to the head of the queue.
Whether it be in trying to salvage what’s left of this Six Nations campaign, the South African tour in the summer or the glamour November series that includes two meetings with New Zealand, Henry is determined to force his way back in.
“If the timing’s too short for this Six Nations, I’m very much set on making the South Africa tour. If that’s too short, it’s very much focussing on the November series.
“Physically, I’m in good shape. I’m at an age where I know the game better than I did four or five years ago. For me, as an openside, I feel confident that there’s a lot more to come from me.
He will make his return against the Scarlets on Sunday and he admitted that he needs at least that game, if not the clash with Cardiff the following weekend, before he would be physically set for test rugby.
“I’m not battle hardened. In my position, you need to be in the mix and have those bumps and bruises. In the game, you make so many collisions that when you’re out of it for a while, it takes a while to get back up to speed.
“It’s about trying to get a run. It makes it harder when Sean Reidy’s been playing so well. It’s not about looking towards Ireland, it’s about getting back in an Ulster jersey.
On his chances of featuring in Twickenham, Henry was honest enough to admit that it would be a stretch.
“I definitely feel like I need some game time. I’d love to think that Joe will be watching the game...
“Maybe Paul O’Connell could, but most players need a bit of game time. I’m not thinking about Twickenham; I’m thinking about this week’s Scarlets game and trying to get picked to play in the Cardiff game.”