Chris Henry: 'More stressful than playing' - Ex-Ireland flanker on his first foray into coaching

Chris Henry won 24 Ireland caps and played 184 times for Ulster before retiring in November 2018
Chris Henry won 24 Ireland caps and played 184 times for Ulster before retiring in November 2018

As a player, Chris Henry had his fair share of intense experiences on the pitch.

From the Six Nations to the Champions Cup, the former Ireland and Ulster flanker accumulated a wealth of experience rubbing shoulders with rugby's elite before hanging up his boots in November 2018.

However, despite the pressure that comes with competing at the highest level, Henry admits he has had more stress during his first foray into coaching.

After a successful playing career, the 35-year-old took over as head coach of Malone rugby club last summer, succeeding Paddy Armstrong.

"Coaching was very different from playing, certainly a lot more stressful," said Henry on Radio Ulster's Sportsound Extra Time.

'A different dynamic'

"It's a different dynamic. When you're on the pitch, at least you get to fix the problem when you're out there, but as a coach all the work is done during the week and then game day is just nerve-wracking."

However, despite the different set of challenges posed by coaching, Henry has enjoyed his first taste of leading the squad at Gibson Park.

"It's been a fun year," he said.

"I've had a really enjoyable year, with a great group of players."

Premature end

Unfortunately, he is disappointed that he will not have the chance to complete his first season in charge with the Irish domestic season having concluded prematurely in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time of the All Ireland League's suspension, Malone, who play in Division 1B, were fourth in the table with a strong chance of securing a spot in the play-offs.

Henry concedes there were expectations regarding his first year at Malone, but feels they stemmed from the quality of the squad rather than his stature in Irish rugby.

"We're very lucky that we have quite a significant amount of Ulster allocated players, so when they're not selected for Ulster, we have a lot of talent that comes to play for us.

"We also have a really good culture at the club and a solid core of club players, who are there week-to-week.

"There were certainly challenges and I think the expectation was there, but it was an enjoyable target to have."

'Not closing the door' on coaching

After 'dipping his toe' in the waters of coaching, Henry will take a step back when domestic rugby resumes, with William Leacock assuming head coaching duties and Henry moving into a new role as technical advisor.

With a 15-month-old daughter and another baby on the way as well as a new career at a medical advice company, the 24-time Ireland international was unable to commit to a second year.

While work and childcare are likely to take up the majority of his time over the coming years, Henry doesn't rule out a return to coaching.

"I'll never close the door," he said.

"Rugby will always be a part of my life, so whether it's coaching the under-12s or under-18s or the first-team, I'll always enjoy giving time to the game.

"If the opportunity came to get back in and coach, I'd love it."