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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

‘Unbelievable’ Wembley Experience Leaves Henry Hungry For More

‘Unbelievable’ Wembley Experience Leaves Henry Hungry For More

Chris Henry declared himself ‘reasonably happy’ with his performance against Romania yesterday as the Ulster flanker marked his first Rugby World Cup start with a try in the closing stages.

It has been some journey for Chris Henry to go from a hospital bed 10 months ago to being a Rugby World Cup starter for Ireland and playing in front of a record tournament crowd of 89,267 at Wembley Stadium.

Henry’s health and rugby-playing future were thrown into serious doubt late last year when, just hours before Ireland’s GUINNESS Series clash with South Africa, he suffered a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – also known as a ‘mini-stroke’. A hole in his heart had led to a blocked blood vessel in his brain.

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Thankfully, surgery to ‘repair a defect in his heart wall’ was successful and a run of six games at the tail-end of Ulster’s season from March to May, coupled with a lot of hard graft in pre-season with Ireland, saw the 30-year-old make a remarkably quick recovery to earn his seat on the World Cup plane.

Following on from his tournament debut as a replacement in Cardiff last week, Henry got the full 80 minutes of Ireland’s second pool game against Romania and did not disappoint, weighing in with a try, securing three turnovers and leading the tackle and carry statistics for his side.

Giving his reaction afterwards, he said: “I just feel so lucky to be here and I’m loving every minute of it. It was an unbelievable experience. To play at Wembley and play in front of all those fans, it just added to the excitement and pressure. Hopefully there’s more to come.

“For me it was a great opportunity to get 80 minutes there and for lads who maybe thought they would start (against Canada) last week and didn’t. Hopefully it just causes headaches for Joe (Schmidt).

“Paulie (O’Connell) talked about it from the beginning of the tournament. You don’t win things with the starting 15, it is about the whole squad buying into it and we are doing that.

“I thought two players, in particular, were outstanding – Dev Toner and Tommy Bowe – considering the pressure they must have felt. They have shown they are two quality players and they’ve given Joe some headaches for this coming week.”

Henry, a mainstay of the 2014 Six Nations title-winning side, will also be hoping to feature against Italy next Sunday afternoon whether as a starter or in an impact role off the bench.

Reflecting on his performance against the Romanians, the streetwise openside admitted: “I enjoyed getting the ball and going forward a bit more. Perhaps in other games I did more of the dirty work, the rucking and defensive duties.

“The ball just came to me a bit more and that is something I have tried to work on a bit on pre-season, keep my feet alive. Jason Cowman (our strength and conditioning coach) has done some good work with me in the gym and I’ve got some good scores.

“My primary job is still to generate quick ruck ball for this team and I did give away one penalty with a tackle around the neck, which is one of these new rules that they are coming down hard on, so I’m disappointed with that. In general though, I’m reasonably happy.”

Henry’s 73rd-minute try from a lineout maul (pictured above) continued his good scoring form, making it three tries in his last four Test starts. It should help push his claims for inclusion against the Azzurri.

“Joe’s made big calls before. He usually doesn’t get it wrong. He’ll see who is in form and what players have done enough (today). He’ll see the smallest things so if you haven’t worked those first five metres hard enough he notices those small little details.”