Return of Ulster captain Iain Henderson hailed as huge boost ahead of top-of-the-table clash with Leinster

Return of Ulster captain Iain Henderson hailed as huge boost ahead of top-of-the-table clash with Leinster

Ulster captain Henderson made his first appearance of the season last weekend as a replacement in a 36-15 victory over Zebre, having recovered from the knee injury he picked up during training on Ireland’s summer tour of New Zealand.

Now he will be fresh and raring to go against Leinster at the RDS and fellow international Madigan believes that will be crucial to second-placed Ulster’s hopes of inflicting a first defeat of the campaign on the league leaders.

“It’s great to have your captain back fit. He was like a first capper coming off the bench last weekend. You could see he had such energy and excitement about him,” said the 31-cap fly-half.

“His leadership on and off the field is such a big part of Ulster. He’s from there and it’s the only club he has played for. With everything he has done in the game, when he speaks everyone listens. He leads by his actions.

“It’s the best physical shape I’ve seen him in during the time I have been here. He’s effectively had an extended pre-season, he hasn’t played a whole lot this year.

“Seeing him bouncing around in training, with his energy and his body language, I think he is really comfortable in himself and he’s just ready to perform for Ulster. I would say he would be the most excited out of everyone come the game on Saturday.”

After making his name at Leinster, where he made close on 150 appearances over seven years, the Dublin-born Madigan had spells with Bordeaux-Begles and Bristol before joining Ulster in 2020.

“I am loving it up here. I think we have a nice dynamic of older players, who have an insatiable hunger to win a trophy, then a group of younger players coming through with this bullet-proof confidence,” he said.

“When you mix those two things together, it’s very exciting and reminds me of what we had in 2012 and 2013 in Leinster when we had success in Europe, so hopefully what we have in Ulster is replicating that.

“There is a lot of confidence coming through and, with the blend we have currently, I do feel if it’s going to happen for us, it’s going to be this year. There is an inner belief within our squad that if we can play to our ability, we can beat anyone.”

What better way to test that out than away to table-topping Leinster who are eight from eight in the BKT United Rugby Championship this season.

“I have the utmost respect for them. They are up there with the very best sides in Europe,” said Madigan.

“It’s been great that we have got off to a good start ourselves, but it is just a start. The season really gets going for us, I think, this week against Leinster. We will find out where we are, going down to the RDS.

“We had good success against them last season. We beat them home and away and took a lot of confidence from that. To be able to go down to the RDS and beat them on their home patch was a big step forward for us. So we have a different mindset heading down there this time than having not done it for a long time. We will be heading down to the RDS with a game-plan that we believe will be able to beat them.

“After this weekend, we will know if we are purring and how much confidence we can have going into European fixtures against Sale and La Rochelle, ahead of the inter-provincials with Connacht and Munster over Christmas. So there’s plenty of big games coming up, but the great thing is we have a deep squad.”

The 33-year-old Madigan is side-lined at present, having injured his knee against the Ospreys in October, but is looking to be back playing in the BKT URC in the new year.

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