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Henshaw looking to follow in Irish Lions BOD and Wood's footsteps

Still just 23, the Ireland centre is backing himself to push into the Lions Test team.

ROBBIE HENSHAW’S EARLIEST Lions memories involve watching Keith Wood bombing around the pitch in his inimitable fashion.

You see, Henshaw’s uncle, David, was good mates with ‘Fester’ and that made the Ireland hooker an obvious focus of young Robbie’s attention.

Robbie Henshaw during the press conference Henshaw and the Lions are training at Carton House this week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Wood is one of the great Irish Lions, having toured in 1997 in South Africa and 2001 in Australia. Now Henshaw is among the latest crop of Irishmen who will wear the red jersey, and the Leinster centre is determined to follow in the footsteps of the greats.

“I remember getting up incredibly early for the last Lions tour of New Zealand, watching those games,” said Henshaw of his Lions memories. “The Australia tour, the South Africa tour, I remember them all.

“The earliest memories are probably when Keith Wood was playing, I can’t tell you what age I was. I was pretty young. My uncle played with Keith, would be a good friend of Keith’s, so I remember pinpointing him on the team.”

The 23-year-old is one of 11 Ireland internationals in Warren Gatland’s squad and rather than just relying on memories of the men who have gone before him, Henshaw has been calling on their help.

He has spoken to Gordon D’Arcy about the challenge ahead of him, while Henshaw also sat down with another of the great Irish Lions, Brian O’Driscoll, to pick his brain.

“I had a brief chat with Brian a few weeks ago, just caught up with him to see how he’s getting on and staying in touch with him a little bit.

“It was good to pick his brain a little bit in terms of his experience. I was looking at his past tours and he’s been on four, which is an incredible amount. He’s the best man to go to for a few tips and to get his experience on it.

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw comes out of the cryotheraphy chamber. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We actually didn’t get into it too much, it was more talking about things off the pitch. He said, ‘Step out of your comfort zone, enjoy it and just go out and play, do your best. It’s a massive privilege to be involved in a tour so don’t let is pass you by.

“He said, ‘Just back yourself.’”

And that’s exactly what Henshaw is planning to do. He was outstanding for Ireland again this season and with his parents set to travel to New Zealand to take in the tour, Henshaw is backing himself to force his way into Warren Gatland’s Test side.

Yeah, I obviously do,” said Henshaw when asked if he fancied his chances. “I’m here to back myself to go on and try and get into the Test team. I’ll do the best I can to put my hand up for selection.

“Just train away, put in the hard work now, focus on the now and what happens with selection happens. If I get my chance, I’ll do my best to perform.”

Getting into Lions camp at Carton House in Maynooth this week has been welcome for Henshaw after such a disappointing outing with Leinster last weekend.

The eastern province were well beaten at home by the Scarlets in the Pro12 semi-finals and Henshaw is happy to have been able to move his attention swiftly on.

“It’s certainly taken my mind off the weekend, which was obviously a big disappointment for us.

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw's first Leinster season ended in disappointing fashion. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“This is a distraction and onto this focus, it’s good that we’re in here this week whereas the boys in the province are in training for the week and have a tough week of training ahead of them.”

So what went wrong for Leinster?

“I suppose we had a slow start and we did well to get back, to get ahead, after they scored but then we leaked two tries before the second half,” said Henshaw. “A few defensive system errors let us down, we failed to capitalise on their red card as well.

“We needed to get points early in the second half to narrow the gap to one score. We didn’t do that which was frustrating, given we got to 60-odd minutes without a score to narrow that gap. We left ourselves chasing it.

“It’s just really frustrating, little errors that wouldn’t be like us. We coughed the ball up way too easily in the first half. The amount of ball-handling errors was uncharacteristic of us.”

With that Leinster frustration beginning to fade, Henshaw’s can now focus completely on the Lions as he hopes to follow in the footsteps of the Irish greats like O’Driscoll and Wood.

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Murray Kinsella

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