Back rower Chris Henry says the last 18 months have been the toughest he has known at Ulster but believes the adversity will make players stronger.
He stated there was “real shock” over the loss of coaching staff Jonny Davis and Gareth Robinson on top of so many key personnel in a turbulent season.
Henry is the first Ulster player to have a testimonial season and hopes it will help bring positivity to the club.
“It’s time for Ulster to stop being so hard on ourselves,” he said.
“There’s been so many changes and it’s been turmoil. There’s no doubt we’ve had adversity this last two years.
“When you speak to the younger players you tell them to use adversity in the right way.
“When you have gone through that, which was without doubt the toughest 18 months we’ve ever had to go through, it’s only going to make people stronger.”
Henry said he was “a bit nervous” about being the first Ulster player to have a testimonial but said “hopefully if it goes well, more will follow”.
“Hopefully on and off the pitch it will be an exciting year and that’s why this [testimonial] is a positive story,” he added.
‘It’s time to rebuild’
Ulster will be starting the 2019-19 season with a clean slate after an unprecedented clear-out of personnel.
Eight players are gone from the roster including retirees Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Paul Marshall, while Charles Piutau, Callum Black and Robbie Diack have moved to new clubs.
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have also moved on after the IRFU and the province opted to revoke their contracts.
Director of rugby Les Kiss left by mutual consent in January during the season and his successor Jono Gibbes also asked to be excused from his contract early for family reasons.
He subsequently agreed to take over as director of rugby at French Top 14 club La Rochelle, beginning in November.
Ulster chief executive Shane Logan is stepping down from his position in August, while the departure of physio Robinson and strength and conditioning coach Davis were unexpected blows for the players.
Henry said: “It was as a real shock the way it was handled.
“There’s no denying they are missed around the place but unfortunately in the professional game people move quickly and the IRFU have made this decision for them to move on.
“They know the players have so much respect for them and whatever they go on to do, they’ll be successful.
“We have to start enjoying what this place is about and move forward. It’s time to rebuild.”
New head coach Dan McFarland has not yet been released from his contract with the Scottish Rugby Union, who insist he must serve a nine-month notice period which ends in January.
Ulster hope he will be in situ before that and in the meantime, coaches Dwayne Peel and Jared Payne have taken charge of pre-season training, which began on Monday.
“It could have been smoother, but although [McFarland] is not here yet, he has put a plan in place and the coaches know exactly what they’re doing,” said Henry.
“Jared has been awesome. He is one of the best players I have ever played with and as a coach, he is amazing.
“He is really taking charge already and the boys are really responding to him. He’s getting his hands dirty right away and has been a smooth transition.”
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