Heineken Champions Cup: Ulster results down to 'next level' training - Henderson

John Cooney and Marcell Coetzee
John Cooney is congratulated by Marcell Coetzee after scoring his ultimately decisive fine solo try

Ulster captain Iain Henderson has credited his side's impressive European start to their ferocious training.

The northern province sit top of their Champions Cup pool after wins over Bath and Clermont Auvergne in their opening two fixtures.

Ulster are aiming to return to the competition's knockout stages having reached the last eight for the first time in five years last season.

"The character is built throughout training," said lock Henderson.

"The training is next level.

"It's different to any I've ever been involved in with Ulster before."

Henderson has enjoyed back-to-back wins in his opening outings as permanent captain having missed the first two months of the season due to his World Cup involvement with Ireland.

Ulster's win over Clermont on Friday was far more comprehensive than the five-point margin suggests, with the hosts outplaying their opponents for the majority of the encounter in Belfast.

In an impressive display, Ulster dictated the tempo of the match with scrum-half John Cooney and back row Marcel Coetzee particularly prominent in ensuring their French opponents were not allowed in the ascendancy at any stage.

Henderson has won both his games as Ulster captain
Henderson has won both his games as Ulster captain

A 72nd minute penalty try which at least secure Clermont a losing bonus-point did not dampen the spirits of Henderson and head coach Dan McFarland post-match, who both pointed to Ulster's fighting spirit as one of the key ingredients to their recent European victories.

"The energy coming back from under the posts (having conceded the penalty try) was unbelievable," Henderson said.

"We just wanted to get back and the guys tearing off to get that kick-off taken was unbelievable. We wanted to get back into them, so I didn't have to say much."

McFarland reign continues to move forward

Last season, McFarland's first as head coach, was generally agreed to be a positive one for Ulster who made the knockout stages of both the Champions Cup and the Pro14.

In Europe they were narrowly defeated by Leinster in the quarter-finals while their Pro14 final hopes were dashed by a rampant Glasgow.

"At the end of last season we talked about how much we enjoyed those play-off games, obviously they didn't go our way but guys really enjoyed being there and having the opportunity to play knockout rugby," Henderson continued.

"It's an attitude, a desire. The energy, intensity, competitiveness in training but not in a vicious or malicious sense, it's in an 'everyone wants to get better' sense.

"Everyone is striving to do the extra things that they know can make the team better."