Ulster rugby team's work ethic criticised by Iain Henderson
IAIN Henderson has questioned his team's work ethic, accusing players of having been 'a bit lazy' at times, as Ulster prepare for today's must-win European Champions Cup game with La Rochelle at the Kingspan Stadium.
Even in the face of adversity - and there has been plenty of that in recent weeks - Ulster's coaches and players alike generally close ranks and stand up for each other, when in the public domain at least.
However, as one of the leaders in the Ulster squad, British and Irish Lion Henderson has now followed in the footsteps of scrum coach Aaron Dundon.
The New Zealander was openly critical of certain aspects of some players' approach to recent games.
In the wake of a record defeat to Connacht and another sub-standard display in the win over a 14-man Munster side, Dundon labelled certain players as 'spectators' in reference to their commitment or otherwise to the cause.
Now, in a break with the normal diplomacy as far as the players are concerned, Henderson has clearly felt it necessary to air his views on the same topic ahead of today's clash with the French side.
His comments come after the 38-7 defeat by Leinster in Dublin last week and he has urged coaches and players alike to take more responsibility going forward.
"What's been said about people, there's a few 'spectators' on the pitch, it's been like that for the last three weeks, I feel anyway, in every game." said the 25-year-old forward.
"I think everyone on the pitch at some point has been guilty of it. It should be something that's an easy fix.
"People should be working hard not only for themselves but for the others on the pitch, and that's something we've spoken about.
"We've been frustrated by what we've been watching from the weekend. We have to take that slightly more personally and make sure, within the whole organisation, coaches and players, that we take it more personally.
"To make it personal, people really have to understand what it really means and what they can do individually to make it better.
"Boys generally being a bit lazy, not working hard enough, that's something we have to fix."
While Ulster have been misfiring in recent weeks, they did produce some outstanding rugby in the two European wins over Harlequins, particularly in the first encounter amidst a blizzard at the Twickenham Stoop.
Obviously Henderson wants to see a repeat performance today against the French side.
"I said after Harlequins, people were talking about it relieving pressure that we'd done well in those two games (but) I think it put more pressure on." he added
"Every team in the league, more or less, can pull a result out of the bag, in most leagues over the world, but it's only good teams that can line up result, after result, after result.
"We did it back-to-back against Harlequins but that builds the pressure for the next games because we knew it was going to be a big three weeks.
"We're back to square one now again. With that, pressure comes from different directions and that's something we have to deal with."
With Wasps facing Harlequins this evening and games in the other Pools of relevance as far as qualification for the knock-out stages is concerned, Ulster won't know how they stand until later in the weekend.
However, next week's trip to Coventry to face Wasps will almost certainly be a 'dead rubber' for Ulster if they fail to win this afternoon against a La Rochelle side that lost 21-3 to the English side in their last European outing.
"It's a new competition, fighting on a different front, and that's a massive change in that aspect. " said Henderson.
"Of course these two (games) are massive and going to be massively difficult. We saw La Rochelle going across to Wasps, and we saw what Wasps can do.
"Obviously we have to wait on the results of other games to see what's needed, but for us, it's all about Saturday afternoon.
"We need a proper performance. I'm not talking about winning, or scoring 50 points, I'm saying a team performance, solid in defence and attack and sealing up a lot of those leaks that we've had over the last number of weeks."
Key quote......."Boys generally being a bit lazy, not working hard enough, that's something we have to fix."