Henry Speight: Player by day, tourist by night

Henry Speight
Henry Speight

If the Northern Ireland winter is as extreme as the summer this year new short-term signing, Henry Speight, knows just what to expect.

The Fijian born Australian international was in Belfast jut over 11 years ago when he played in the Under-19 Rugby World Championship.

Although it was April, he recalled their arrival as being similar to a scene from the movie Cool Runnings.

“They said winter was finishing, but we put every layer we possibly could,” smiled Speight.

Back then Speight admits all he knew about Belfast was connected with the Titanic and obviously a bit of background os the political side of things.

Now, back in the Northern Ireland capital with his wife, Speight is keen to make the most of his time with Ulster on his short-term contract.

Last year Ulster had Christian Lealiifano on a short-term contract and with him being a fellow Brumbie, Speight has already got a much better idea of what things are like at his new Irish base.

“I’m always looking for an experience other than Super Rugby after over 100 games with the Brumbies over eight seasons.

“Christian had an awesome time here and had said nothing bad about the club.

“Everything I ask, it was met with a positive answer. So it was a no brainer.

“Obviously when Ulster came knocking, and with a few injuries to the back three, I thought I could come in and contribute to the team as much as I can.”

And Speight has now been experiencing first hand the things Lealiifano enjoyed during his stint with the Province.

“So far, our experience with my wife has been awesome,” explained Speight.

“Very welcoming people, very hospitable and we have seen that already just in Tescos and stuff like that.

“People coming up and saying ‘Hi’ and ‘Christian had a ball last year, hopefully you can kick some goals too’. So a bit of pressure there already, I guess.

“The community is very welcoming and the club and players have been no different.

“We’re really enjoying our time and fortunate to be living in the city.

“It’s pretty central. Every time I finish training, I go home, pack up and we go for a walk.

“Training by day, tourist by evening!

“I’m just trying to take in our surroundings as much as we can and it’s been awesome so far,” added Speight.

However, Ulster will not be planning for Speight to be here on holiday.

He has been brought in as cover with several backline injuries and new head coach, Dan McFarland, has put him into the starting lineup for the first Guinness PRO14 game of the season against Scarlets this evening at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster will also look to use Speight’s experience to help the coaching staff with developing their young players.

In the ideal world Speight will hope to leave a mark just like Lealiifano did during his short time planned in Belfast.

“I guess, there’s a bit of expectation from the younger players, especially in the outside backs, with a few of our crucial players out injured.

“There’s Louis Ludik and Jacob Stockdale and the likes, quality players who will be missing the first few weeks.

“The onus is on us to guide and contribute and help the younger players in the squad.

“On a personal level, I come with a clean slate, it’s a new club and I feel like a new kid at school.

“I just want to put my best foot forward and contribute.

“Wherever the team needs me, in midfield or on the wings, I want to leave a better player than I arrived two weeks ago,” said Speight.