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'It's just pure work rate. In a tight game, it can nearly win you a game'

Robbie Henshaw is happy that he’s showing a rounded game in midfield for Leinster.

OFF-THE-BALL actions are so important in telling us about how hard a player is willing to work for his team-mates, about how much they care.

The efforts when not in possession or directly confronted with a tackle are key insights, and coaches like Joe Schmidt, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have always placed a premium on their players delivering in these areas.

Leinster scored eight tries against Glasgow last weekend but perhaps the moment they will have taken most satisfaction from was chasing back to deny Niko Matawalu and the Warriors a breakaway try in the second half.

Leinster 1

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It might not seem like much, but Leinster are cruising in the game at this point, leading 34-7 with a bonus point already secured.

Fergus McFadden and Robbie Henshaw are taking nothing for granted, however. They are desperate to work hard for their team-mates and their chase prevents Matawalu from scorching clear.

The angle below highlights the hard work from McFadden and Henshaw even better.

Leinster 2

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McFadden [red below] is close to the ball, to be fair, but Henshaw [blue] is almost half the pitch away and still hits full speed within a split second of the ball hitting the ground, even before Matawalu [yellow] has gathered it.

Chase

Had Henshaw coasted back, McFadden would have been left in a difficult one-on-one position arriving on the angle.

While neither Leinster man tackles Matawalu, they do force him into an inaccurate offload attempt and Leinster regain possession at the scrum, with other team-mates not far behind.

“It’s just pure work rate,” says Henshaw of this incident. “It’s busting a gut to get back and do your best for your teammates. When that happens, that gives a team an urge to go on and get the ball back.

“When someone chases back on a player or gets a turnover, it really lifts a team. That can be a small margin that swings momentum. In a tight game, it can nearly win you a game.”

Those moments of work rate are the real key. Without them, Leinster’s attacking qualities would be meaningless. Their defence can certainly improve overall, but the fact that the underlying effort is so clearly there is hugely positive for the province.

It’s when they add their offloading and clever line-running gloss on top of that work rate that the results start to become even more impressive.

Henshaw will provide his usual level of ball-carrying excellence against Montpellier on Saturday in France [KO 1pm Irish time, Sky Sports] but he will also be keen to ensure his passing game hits the mark again too.

There were a couple of gems against Glasgow last time out, as in the case below.

Pass

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This left-handed pass wide to McFadden was one of the standout moments in Henshaw’s game, although he was a little less accurate with a couple of his other five passes.

“It’s nice when it comes off,” says the Ireland centre. “Both in the club here and during the international windows we work on our wide passing game, being able to vary our passing game.

“So it is an asset to have as players to be able to put your outside guys with the wheels into space – if it comes off obviously!

“There are threats of an intercept or a ball going down and the opposition getting a score off it but when it works out and you get that 20-metre or 30-metre gain, it is always a nice feeling.”

Henshaw is predominantly used as a carrier by Ireland, but he is keen not to pigeonhole himself as being a specific type of player.

“I try to express myself in terms of being well rounded, have that passing, that distribution game,” says Henshaw.

“And being able to be direct, a carrier, as well. Sometimes it depends on the situations, the type of game plan you are playing or the way the opposition are playing. I’d like to see myself as not just a crash-hit player. I like to vary my skills.”

Robbie Henshaw reacts after having a try disallowed Henshaw reacts after having a try chalked off. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Henshaw was back in the 13 shirt for Leinster last weekend, with the injury to Garry Ringrose meaning that captain Isa Nacewa returned to the inside centre role.

The 35-year-old’s class remains evident and Henshaw is pleased to be playing alongside such a master.

“He brings a kind of calmness to the whole backline and the team. He’s just focused on doing the basics really well, and I think he showed that at the weekend,” says Henshaw of Nacewa.

“He ran some really nice lines. I don’t know how long it’s been since his last game, but it looks like he just came back in seamlessly. Two tries in his first game back is incredible, the lines he picked and the ball he took on was great.

“In defence, he’s a guy who doesn’t hold back. He puts in dominant hits and he gives it everything. He’s the type of player you’d want to play with.”

And Leinster will need the likes of Henshaw and Nacewa to deliver on Saturday as they head for France with bullish determination to make a statement.

Even though they have already qualified from their pool and secured a home quarter-final, Leo Cullen’s side are building this game up as a big one in their ongoing growth.

“I think it’s massive, we need to put down a marker,” says Henshaw.

James Lowe and Robbie Henshaw celebrate with try scorer Isa Nacewa Henshaw is likely to team up with Nacewa again this weekend. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Going over there, we’ll have to win – be it ugly or be it scoring a lot of tries or whatever, but we need to over there with the mindset that we need to come out with the win because if we’re to continue to do well and take a step further than we did last year, we need to be comfortable and be uncomfortable over there but come out on the winning side.

“It’s definitely going to test us because Montpellier are a different team at home. Similar to all French teams, when they play at home they are different. So we need to not be fazed by what the crowd will be like or what they’ll bring, but just be focused on ourselves and what we’ve been doing all year.

“We just need to continue that and keep building, but I think for us to lay down a real marker in this competition we want to go over there and we want a clean sweep.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Murray Kinsella

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