Ireland forward Iain Henderson says Ulster must put their words into action when they face the first of a possible four ‘cup finals’ this afternoon.
Henderson and company tackle provincial rivals Leinster at the Kingspan Stadium in what is a crucial penultimate fixture of the Guinness PRO12 league programme.
With a trip to the misfiring Ospreys to complete proceedings next week, victory for Ulster — if other results go their way — will guarantee them a top-four finish. But too often, says Henderson, Ulster have failed to deliver in such circumstances and he is desperate not to repeat past failings later today.
With both teams infiltrated with internationals galore, it promises to be a game of high intensity, physical endurance and flair.
Table-toppers Leinster are looking for bragging rights and a home date in the play-offs while Ulster’s focus is on making the top four.
Ulster, who have 11 internationals on parade including the whole of a talented back-line, have seen their season littered with ups and downs, but recently managed to squeeze into fourth place with the end goal now firmly in their own hands.
“You can say time and time again that we have learned from last year, but you can’t put it into words until you actually do it on the pitch,” said Henderson, who lines out at No 6 in a back-row that includes the in-form Sean Reidy at No 8 and openside Chris Henry.
“People say action is louder than words; I can say whatever I want and then we go out and lose. Personally, it means a lot more to me this season playing for the older players, the ones who don’t have too many seasons left.
“It would mean the most to win it for Rory (Best). He has been plugging away at this club for so long and I think we owe it to him to push the whole team through.
“It has been a long season for everyone but it would be unacceptable for us to let it go to waste and not get to the play-offs.
“The likes of Rory, Roger Wilson, Andrew Trimble, and Tommy Bowe are getting on now and those boys have only one piece of silverware, the Celtic League title from back in 2006. We’d like to add more to the cabinet and give them something to savour.”
Ulster have fallen short over the past five seasons and the 24-year-old Henderson insists that such failings are not through lack of effort.
“Every team we play, we fully expect to win and it should be no different with Leinster,” said Henderson, who endured a six-month lay-off with a hamstring injury. “We know when it comes to this end of the season we have to put our bodies on the line to make sure we get the win. We’ve plenty of experienced players who know how to beat a team like Leinster and have beaten a team like Leinster.”
Defeating the current Leinster side, whose defensive cordon is the best in the league under Kurt McQuilkin’s influence, is an onerous challenge.
There also promises to be plenty of hard graft up front where the physical attributes usually prevail. But with so much talent outside of the scrum, a little piece of individual brilliance could turn the game.
The match-ups of Johnny Sexton and his shadow fly-half Paddy Jackson will be interesting, while in midfield, the joust between the talented and fleet-of-foot Garry Ringrose in the outside channel alongside in-form Ben Te’o against the big abrasive Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall could prove decisive.
The winner will be the team that turns wise words in to actuality, but with home support and needing a victory more, Ulster just may shade the issue.
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