Edinburgh v Ulster: Fully fit Iain Henderson leads Ulster into crucial Murrayfield PRO14 battle against Edinburgh

Ulster's Iain Henderson has returned to full fitness and was put through his paces earlier this week by pupils at Edenderry Primary in Portadown as part of a Kingspan Coaching Masterclass after the school won a competition through the News Letter and Portadown Times
Ulster's Iain Henderson has returned to full fitness and was put through his paces earlier this week by pupils at Edenderry Primary in Portadown as part of a Kingspan Coaching Masterclass after the school won a competition through the News Letter and Portadown Times

British Lion Iain Henderson has declared he is fit and ready to give his all to Ulster in the race to make the play-offs in the Guinness PRO14.

The international lock returns to the side after a down week to lead them into a crucial Conference B fixture at BT Murrayfield against Edinburgh on Friday night (7:35pm).

Ulster currently lie second in the section, two points ahead of Benetton and three on Edinburgh as they go into the penultimate games of the regular league season.

Any win for Ulster would secure a place in the first phase of the knockout stages - and that would also be a home quarter-final if Benetton were to lose at home to Munster.

Edinburgh have to win to maintain their hopes of staying in the mix for the play-offs.

Henderson’s return is one of three changes to the Ulster side as well as one positional switch.

Robert Baloucoune comes in having also missed the defeat in Glasgow last weekend along with Nick Timoney in the back row.

Winger Jacob Stockdale switches to fullback with Mike Lowry ruled out with injury.

Ulster are seeking the double over the Scots having won 30-29 with a last gasp kick in Belfast at the start of the season.

But Edinburgh, who pipped Ulster to play-offs last season and who also reached this year’s European Champions Cup quarter-finals have been playing strongly recently and have only lost one home game on the domestic front in the past year.

“It is going to be a massively huge challenge,” said Henderson.

“I think their set piece is brilliant for them, attacking or defending they are reassured by it and they rely on it quite a lot.

“Other than that I think they play a really solid brand of rugby and that is something we are going to have to try and break down. If we can do that we can do well.

“They will be similar to Glasgow if we play well for the first 10 minutes (as we did last week) that is not going to be enough, we have to make sure we are playing for the full 80 minutes.”

Having suffered two hand injuries and sprained a knee while playing with Ireland in the Six Nations, Henderson was happy to report this week that he is back to full fitness.

“I just needed a wee week down there (after the European Champions Cup quarter-final) to make sure all the rehab was done.

“I am sure any injury threats that I had been carrying in recent weeks are put to bed and I can give everything in to the rest of the season now for Ulster,” added Henderson.

Meanwhile, backrow forward Jordi Murphy, said it was important for Ulster to be in the mix for more knockout rugby having had a taste for it in Europe.

But he also knows the challenge Edinburgh present and how important the game is to both sides.

“We are facing an Edinburgh side who have been a really quality side recently. They will still be hurting a bit after a loss to Munster in the European Cup quarter-final.

“They have all to play for as well,” said the Irish international.

“They are only a couple of points behind us in the league and this weekend is a must win for both sides.

“I am really looking forward to it.

“It is great to be in the mix and knowing you are in a position if you get the win you guarantee yourself a place in the quarter-finals in the league and then go forward from there again,” added Murphy.

Edinburgh: Graham; Hoyland, Bennett, Scott, van der Merwe; van der Walt, Pyrgos; Schoeman, McInally (capt), WP Nel, Toolis, Gilchrist, Bradbury, Watson, Mata.

Replacements: Ford, Dell, Berghan, Hunter-Hill, Barclay, Shiel, Hickey, G Taylor.

Ulster: J Stockdale, R Baloucoune, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, I Henderson (capt), K Treadwell, N Timoney, J Murphy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick, R Kane, A O’Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, P Nelson, A Kernohan.